Free Wi-Fi for everyone? FCC says maybe

Roswell resident Jan Oetinger uses the free Wirelesstown internet connection in Roswell Area Park. Phil Skinner pskinner@ajc.com

Roswell resident Jan Oetinger uses the free Wirelesstown internet connection in Roswell Area Park. (Phil Skinner pskinner@ajc.com)

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(Updated 12:44 p.m.) What would you say to unlimited access to free super Wi-Fi networks across the nation  – and possibly never having to sign up for a data plan?

The Federal Communications Commission is considering making free Wi-Fi- networks available to the public. While it could be years before it’s a reality, the proposal already has wireless service providers in a tizzy, according to The Washington Post.

The proposed Wi-Fi networks would be powerful enough to “penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees,” the Post said.

The idea is from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “Freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free-market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future and benefits consumers,” Genachowski told the Post.

A major obstacle would be getting the free Wi-Fi networks built, as Arstechnica.com points out. The Post report partly stems from a so-called “White Spaces” proposal that uses spectrum from empty TV channels and allows the airwaves to be used for Wi-Fi or “super” Wi-Fi, Artstechnica says. But the FCC only allocates airwaves. Someone would have to build the Wi-Fi networks.

According to Artstechnica, the talk about free Wi-Fi has re-emerged because the FCC is taking comments “from industry players about the agency’s plan to free up spectrum owned by TV broadcasters through incentive auctions. Newly freed spectrum in the 600MHz band could be used for Super Wi-Fi, and other services that might expand mobile Internet access.”

Opening up more Wi-Fi access could boost innovation, according to the Post. Because of the Super Wi-Fi networks’ reach, driverless cars might be able to communicate with other vehicles a mile away or hospitals might be able monitor patients from long distances, just to name a few of the ideas. In fact, Google, Microsoft and other technology companies support the proposal because of the anticipated explosion of new innovations.

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and other carriers, however, say the government should stick to governing and sell those super airwaves to businesses who can then provide the public with access. Some opponents in the $178 billion wireless industry also argue that opening up the super Wi-Fi networks could interfere with existing cellular networks and television broadcasts.

Should the government put the plan into high gear, or should the airwaves be sold to businesses?

209 comments Add your comment

Pat

February 5th, 2013
11:45 am

So who will be paying for it?

Spanky

February 5th, 2013
11:46 am

This could have dangerous repercussions, but it’s a nice gesture…kinda.

K-Ster

February 5th, 2013
11:46 am

Open them up to free access! Why fork over so much money to the current carriers? They don’t customize plans to meet exactly the usage of payees (Europe charges individuals per usage, we’re backwards in the U.S., forcing payment on a psychic guess–when in reality it is a profit gimmick).

I’m sorry, businesses. But when you fail to make sense, you will eventually fail to make profit.

Sandor Burnes

February 5th, 2013
11:50 am

Look at who is objecting… the ones (AT&T, etc.) who want to soak you for every nickel they can. They do on their cell phones, on their cable service, and now they want to on wi-fi.

This is actually an inspired and forward thinking idea. Which is why big business will never let it come to pass.

ClayHall

February 5th, 2013
11:50 am

Nothing is ever “free.” Someone always pays for it, and it’s always the taxpayers.

PR

February 5th, 2013
11:55 am

Of course the cellular data providers don’t want this to happen. They are making BILLIONS off their steep internet charges, and most carriers don’t even offer unlimited plans anymore. I’m not sure internet access should be free… but we’re definitely getting overcharged as it stands.

stands for decibels

February 5th, 2013
11:56 am

You mean, behave like a civilized country and provide utility-style services to the citizens?

That’s crazy talk, FCC.

Greg

February 5th, 2013
11:56 am

Free is a weird term for this, because it won’t be free. Free means that it will paid by taxpayers. Where as if it was sold to businesses, it would be paid by users. Either way you will have to pay for it.

Anthony

February 5th, 2013
11:57 am

And free gasoline for all! And free healthcare for all! And free first class flight upgrades for all! And free breakfast for all! And free tickets to the Super Bowl for all!

Pamela

February 5th, 2013
11:57 am

I don’t trust it.

Xasthur

February 5th, 2013
11:57 am

Computers, telecommunications, the internet and countless other innovations were already paid for by taxpayers to develop them. Usually under defense spending. The internet was public for probably 30 years before it became private. Down with social costs and risk but private profit.

John

February 5th, 2013
11:58 am

Can we stop calling it “free”. I mean, it’s tax payer funded WIFI. It’s not free.

stands for decibels

February 5th, 2013
11:59 am

I’m sure the “providers” (yeah, right) have had a black-ops squad ready to go to work on this possibility for years, and if the Commission are the least bit serious, we’ll be hearing about various indiscretions involving FCC staffers and farm animals / live boys / dead girls in short order.

Jeff

February 5th, 2013
11:59 am

Yep, THAT is what I want… the government in charge of my internet! There’s no chance anything could go wrong with that!

*cough cough CHINA cough*

Hall Mom

February 5th, 2013
11:59 am

This would impact a huge amount of businesses who could no longer compete: cell carriers, phone companies, cable & sat., internet providers. Would be a great service for a city, subdivision, college campus, business park, mall, etc to provide to taxpayers/members, but free for everyone would cost a bunch for the half of us that pay taxes.

And this means you are looking at creating a new government monopoly. No, I would much rather be able to fire AT&T and hire Sprint when my service is bad.

Jim Strong

February 5th, 2013
11:59 am

I’m not sure if they people making the case for “free wifi to all” and “no profit to big business” realize they are making the case for Socialism. I shouldn’t be surprised, post Obamacare, free wifi is peanuts.

stands for decibels

February 5th, 2013
12:00 pm

Yes, we can stop calling it “free”, if the Galt’s Gulch crowd can stop having conniptions over the Government actually governing.

Anthony

February 5th, 2013
12:00 pm

If you would like the “free” internet that taxpayer’s funded, then break out your 28k modem. While I do believe that wireless carriers overcharge, they are adding value to the original internet infrastructure with 4G LTE and other high speed technologies.

Greg

February 5th, 2013
12:00 pm

Seems the best option for free wi-fi would be a usage tax. It would be free, but you’d have to pay a usage tax, say $25 a month to use it.

Sam the Sham

February 5th, 2013
12:01 pm

How do they propose providing this? Satellites? I live in an area that still doesn’t have cable TV and very poor cellular service. Sounds like another tax payer funded boondoggle.

mrgiarc

February 5th, 2013
12:01 pm

Pat have you ever heard of advertisements? The entire system can be paid for by advertisers and not by tax payers if that is your main concern. Americans with low incomes will be able to access the web at little or no cost. The added access will spur new internet devices and services which will create jobs. Republicans are always worrying about who is paying for something.

easystreet

February 5th, 2013
12:03 pm

Just another way for Big Brother to monitor you online activity. Think about it.

Glenn

February 5th, 2013
12:03 pm

The airwaves were supposed to belong to the American people until our self serving politicians on each end of the spectrum sold us out for coin . This would be a total boon to technology . But of course some companies/industries need their welfare .

Cammi317

February 5th, 2013
12:03 pm

Sounds good, but it’s probably a way to make everything you do on the internet even more accessible to the Government, not that much is private anymore anyway. Conspiracy theory aside, I think this move is one of those inevitable ones…

Antoinette

February 5th, 2013
12:03 pm

The air we breathe isn’t even free………and the FCC is talking FREE WIFI? Again, nothing is free. Therefore, why get us all in such a “tiz”??

mitrebox

February 5th, 2013
12:05 pm

Someone completely misread the FCC’s speech. FCC isn’t interested in making a WIFI network.

They only want to make the spectrum free. Frequencies are currently licensed. ATT, Verizon own parts of the spectrum and are opposed to opening it to other companies. Free frequency licensing is not the same as a free wifi network.

d

February 5th, 2013
12:06 pm

..One of the rare good ideas from the FCC…tho like all other forms of media its wide open to corruption, abuse and misuse…bnut the idea is sound…it’d open up a new world to the rural communities and could be a real plus when used for education, health care and communications…as far as cost…the Tax payers have payd for a lot of the infrastucture changes and hardware used by these Industries as it is,,,so sure its not free…but we’ve already paid and are still paying under the current deal…in the end it will lower the industry costs and allow more access for more people

Al Stein

February 5th, 2013
12:08 pm

Ofcourse the elite dont want it. It is a way of leveling the playing field. Folks cant see that they stop paying their carrier $75 for data, and now can pay government $25 for same service. Makes sense to me,but not big biznez or the right elite who want to keep us down.

James Chapman

February 5th, 2013
12:08 pm

The wifi market has massive economics barriers to entry and creates a de facto monopoly. The market hardly operates as a free market with the three (major) service provides being price setters and blatently price fixing. Thus all arguments towards this being socialism and anti capitalist are quite silly. I’m a staunch economic conservative but aside from the notion of this being “free”, the proposal is worth consideration.

1/137

February 5th, 2013
12:12 pm

I don’t think everyone should have access to the internet. It began in the academic realm, and it’s content quality has steadily degraded since. It only serves to clutter and congest an already cluttered and congested medium.

Pat

February 5th, 2013
12:12 pm

@ mrgiarc, I neither a Dem or Repub, but I do not see anywhere that states that advertisers will be paying for this and the question “who is paying for it?” should be answered. Most likely it will be taxes and I think that taxes need to be used for something more useful than giving everyone the ability to surf the internet at others expense.

haven't learned anything

February 5th, 2013
12:12 pm

Apparently people don’t learn, there is no such thing a free anything. Remember you were told you would get free healthcare under Obamacare, guess what they LIED you’re paying out the ying-yang for the so-called FREE healthcare. The government and the people who look for free things, need to get over themselves, get a job, budget your money more wisely and paid for your own stuff. Because quite frankly I’m over you FREELOADERS.

heck no

February 5th, 2013
12:13 pm

So wifi is now an entitlement?
Wow – what has happened to our country?

History fanatic

February 5th, 2013
12:13 pm

Nothing is free. Taxes pay for all of the so-called freebies handed out by governments. MitreBox seems to think that if the spectrum is freed up then the wireless would magically appear without any infrastructure to support it at all. Wireless requires infrastructure and who would be paying for that?

TekEye

February 5th, 2013
12:14 pm

Bad story! Misinformation hyped by folks who need to write something, already debunked: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/02/no-free-wi-fi-isnt-coming-to-every-us-city/

Mo

February 5th, 2013
12:15 pm

I like Greg’s idea, It’s kinda like Europe. Europe enjoys 3X the speed at a cheaper rate. I would pay a $25 usage tax for a federal Wifi program, its 2/3 less then I am paying now.

Speed Racer

February 5th, 2013
12:16 pm

Mo

February 5th, 2013
12:16 pm

Sprint, T- Mobile, Att, will all have to lower their over priced plans to compete… I love capitalism, even when it is jump started by the FED

t_height06

February 5th, 2013
12:17 pm

I say do it. I don’t think taxpayers will end up paying $360 yearly for it as I am with Verizon’s data package. As long as GA Power doesn’t have anything to do with this I’m all for it.

Reasonable

February 5th, 2013
12:17 pm

To everyone saying they don’t want to switch to “free” wifi because they don’t want the government watching their internet usage. Let me say this (as someone who works in the internet field) you are always being watched by someone. That’s a fact. It’s also a known fact that your internet activity is always being watched by the government in general. That won’t change if wifi goes “free”. Unless you are doing something illegal or questionable (creating red flags) then you have nothing to worry about. And lets say tax money does pay for this “free” wifi, so what? If taxes don’t increase because of it, I don’t have a problem with it. If taxes, do increase because of it, so what again? You’re going to pay for it either way, And at least there is a better safety net of not being price gauged for it if the government is running it. You’re scared the government is going to limit your internet usage? Then continue paying private companies for internet service, they won’t go anywhere just because it becomes “free”. You may even get a better deal now that they might have competition.

Lane

February 5th, 2013
12:20 pm

tmc

February 5th, 2013
12:23 pm

there is no F’ing way the government is going to provide a free super wifi.
to much money to be made by to many company’s.
who ever proposes this will be taken out… and it will never happen.

this is crazy

February 5th, 2013
12:25 pm

Under the belief that everyone gets everything, there is no incentive for working.

Thogwummpy

February 5th, 2013
12:27 pm

Government wi-fi will then set the table for the other power that the Left salivates to achieve—-regulating content; and being able to censor/fine/punish/arrest based upon what you tap into your computer….as well as track your activities. Orwell warned of thought police…and this would evolve into an instrument for that….for using the government wi-fi will establish for the courts an argument that your privacy—is actually public. Granted, it’s worth thinking about….but not rushing into without creating a debate over concerns dealing with State intrusion. I mean after all, it’s the FCC isn’t it!

Zooey

February 5th, 2013
12:28 pm

I love it! Free wi-fi and data plans – what a gift. The amount we need to pay for data usage is criminal. If you’re worried about “who’s paying for it” charge a fee of $20 a month – will still beat the $70 I have to pay now!

Kevin

February 5th, 2013
12:30 pm

Yay! It’s free! I’ll drive my cash for clunkers car to the hospital where I’ll have a procedure performed that I don’t have to pay for. While I’m waiting for my procedure, I can use my Obama phone to surf the free wi-fi.

It’s Free! Yippee!!!!

Jeff

February 5th, 2013
12:31 pm

So, what do we do when the Government decides to cut off access? We, the taxpayers, pay for it and Government controls it? No Thanks.

Lynnie Gal

February 5th, 2013
12:31 pm

YES! FREE WI-FI! The spectrum belongs to the public and is sold to businesses who then sell to the public. Why shouldn’t we get free Wi-FI? It belongs to We the People!

Sharad

February 5th, 2013
12:34 pm

this would be awesome….way to go FCC!!

CommonSense

February 5th, 2013
12:34 pm

Thank you to all the brilliant people realizing that someone has to pay for it. Is it your contention that it should not be done b/c someone has to pay for it? I would say go for it, cut out the middle man carriers that bilk us day in and day out. At least when the government does it, I get a say in it. I work for the largest carrier, I can tell you that the government would run this better than they do.