Yesterday the Washington Post printed a story with this lede:
The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, 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.
It’s pretty much wrong. The government isn’t going to “create” WiFi networks, it’s talking about allocating some of the spectrum freed up by the switch to digital television (called “white space“) for unlicensed Internet use. In other words, your home or coffee shop WiFi uses certain frequencies to “talk” to your laptop or other devices, and you or Starbucks don’t need a license to use those frequencies. The FCC is thinking about allowing WiFi devices to use other frequencies. Unlike current WiFi, which transmits in a range of dozens or a hundred yards, this new white space would allow transmission for a few miles. But, just as with your coffee shop wireless, someone’s going to have to build this network. Just having the spectrum doesn’t mean Internet magically appears.
Also, too, this is nothing new. It’s been kicking around since 2007. Companies that don’t own wireless networks, like Google and Microsoft, are all for it. Companies like AT&T hate it, because towns and cities could create relatively inexpensive WiFi networks and give away WiFi, thus undercutting the all-orifice financial rape that constitutes the cell phone providers’ business model.
So, I guess technically some “government” somewhere could allow consumers to make calls or surf the Internet without paying, but it’s not going to be the national government, and the wireless carriers are going to fight like hell at the local level to stop it from happening. The simple fact that it’s now February 2013, four years after the analog-to-digital TV switch freed up this spectrum, and no white space Internet has been approved should tell you something about the kind of fight that’s been going on between the different corporate giants involved. If you want to read more on this, try here, here and here.