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Free Wi-Fi from the government?

The FCC proposes powerful free networks, but wireless carriers stand to lose out and will fight against it


Natasha Lennard
February 5, 2013 2:43AM (UTC)

The Federal Communications Commission wants us all to have really powerful, free Wi-Fi whenever we want. The proposal, reported Sunday by the Washington Post, sounds too good to be true:

The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.

... Cities support the idea because the networks would lower costs for schools and businesses or help vacationers easily find tourist spots. Consumer advocates note the benefits to the poor, who often cannot afford high cellphone and Internet bills.

Unsurprisingly, wireless carriers are less than delighted: Why would Americans pay private companies for online access if a good public service were freely available? But while the $178 billion wireless industry objects to the idea, tech giants Google and Microsoft are proponents -- they say "a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor," according to WaPo. The companies behind such innovations -- like, say, Google and Microsoft -- would be poised to do pretty well too.

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The proposal would require local television stations and other broadcasters to sell a chunk of airwaves to the government that would be used for the public Wi-Fi networks and it is not clear whether these companies would be willing. Either way, the plan would take a few years to come into fruition. The proposal still needs FCC approval and the heavy lobbying for and against the plan has hardly even begun.


Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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