FCC Plan For Free WiFi Super Highway Boosts Interest in Debate
Descriptions of a free, public WiFi network capable of penetrating concrete and spanning towns have people newly interested in an FCC agenda.At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in January, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski discussed the need to free up wireless spectrum for not only mobile broadband networks but WiFi. Genachowski said that WiFi was in something of a traffic jam, and the FCC was hopeful that it could open up the 5GHz spectrum band by 35 percent. "We're moving to free up a substantial amount of spectrum for WiFi to relieve WiFi congestion and improve WiFi speeds at conferences, airports an ultimately people's homes," Genachowski said on stage at the event, according to a report from the Denver Post. In a Feb. 3 report, the Washington Post offered a more dramatic account of what the FCC has in mind: a super WiFi network "so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month." The idea of a WiFi network robust enough to enable "a driverless car to communicate with another vehicle a mile away or a patient's heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town," as the Post reported, makes abundantly clear why the portioning of spectrum for WiFi purposes has pitted Google and Microsoft (which make products that benefit from an Internet connection) against AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile, among others, which of course currently sell users those connections.
The carriers' networks, however, would be far more robust than the proposed, free public WiFi network, so their business cases would hardly be undone. It's expected that the WiFi network would help to alleviate cellular networks in congested areas, and that only very casual Internet users might cancel their paid service in favor of leaning on the public WiFi.