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Thursday, July 24, 2014 | Last updated: 8:44pm

Free Wi-Fi for entire US population would benefit all



Rumors have been circulating since an article ran in the Washington Post last week about a new Federal Communications Commission proposal for free Wi-Fi, dubbed “super Wi-Fi,” which would span across the U.S. and allow people to make calls and use the internet without paying.

Free Wi-Fi across the country is an innovative idea that would capitalize on a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum called white spaces, which are broadcast frequencies not used by local services.

Using this white space network could have a lot of benefits, as it is a particularly strong space signal, which allows it to travel long distances and penetrate buildings more easily than standard Wi-Fi. Not only that, it could open the path to technological innovations that are currently limited by the high cost of the licensing spectrum.

This is not the first time the FCC has made parts of the spectrum public. In 1985, opening the spectrum led to inventions like garage door openers and baby monitors. These successes point to the potential of a plan that opens this white space to public use.

If the FCC follows through with its proposal, it would make a portion of the white space spectrum free for anyone to use. However, it would not be as simple as a free-for-all. Companies like Google or even city and state governments would be able to regulate public use by building a network to transmit this public Wi-Fi over the white space spectrum.

In other words, instead of accessing your home Wi-Fi router, you would access the Internet free of charge via a signal transmitted through a powerful TV antenna, similar to how you access over-the-air TV channels on your television.

It would also create the Connect America Fund and, over the next 10 years, shift approximately $15.5 billion into the CAF from the Universal Service Fund, a government fund originally set up more than 14 years ago to provide all Americans with access to phone service. These new funds would allow for the production of broadband infrastructure for thousands of consumers, and also set aside money for states to help create mobile broadband networks for rural areas that don’t have access to wired broadband services.

Primary supporters of this FCC plan are Google and Microsoft, who are part of a lobbying group known as the Wireless Innovation Alliance that also includes the New America Foundation, Public Knowledge and Dell, among others.

Opponents of such provisions, such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and chip makers Qualcomm and Intel, want the FCC to sell this spectrum to businesses, and the National Association of Broadcasters wants to leave the space free out of concern that it could muddle television signals.

But the opposition isn’t seeing the big picture.

According to the FCC, this proposal would allow roughly 100 million Americans who currently lack access to broadband Internet to get online. This would be extremely beneficial to rural areas as well as those who lack the means to access or pay for Wi-Fi.

Having a population with access to the Internet would benefit society as a whole in numerous ways. It would provide the country with the resources to become more informed, educated and innovative, and it would enable the creation of new technology, theories and cures.

But as long as the FCC panders to lobbying groups who only have their pocketbooks in mind, free Wi-Fi is still just an idea, far from becoming a reality.

– Razanne Chatila is a journaism sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.


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