FCC chairman wants to build a free nationwide Wi-Fi network

By on February 5, 2013, 7:30 AM

Update: Free Wi-Fi everywhere? Not so fast... It appears the original story and statements mislead us (and many others) to believe the government was interested in pursuing everywhere connectivity, but that's not the case. It's since been clarified that what the FCC is simply defending the white spaces proposal (circa 2008) that relates to spectrum allocation and unlicensed spectrum, which is quite different from having the government building a massive network of its own.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering building a "super" Wi-Fi network that would span the entire country, allowing citizens to surf the Internet or make VoIP calls free of charge. The plan is the brainchild of Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, according to a recent report from the Washington Post.

Unsurprisingly, the proposal is already facing stiff opposition from the wireless industry as lobbying efforts are already underway to convince policymakers to rethink the idea. In the opposite corner, companies like Microsoft and Google are voicing their opinions in favor of a nationwide free Wi-Fi network.

The two tech companies, as well as several others, believe a free Wi-Fi network could create an explosion of innovation and new devices that could benefit the majority of Americans – especially those living below the poverty line. After all, things like garage door openers and wireless microphones all came as a result of the government making certain unlicensed wireless airwaves available back in 1985.

The FCC wants to capitalize on unused spectrum from local television stations and broadcasters known as white space. This type of spectrum is much more powerful than what traditional Wi-Fi networks use, meaning the signals could penetrate thick walls as well as travel much longer distances. The commission envisions public networks that could blanket metropolitan areas and reach many rural communities as well.

If the network is approved, it would be the first of its kind in the world but it would take several years to build. Furthermore, without a governing body overseeing the network in major cities, it’s entirely likely that the network could often become oversaturated, rendering it completely useless.

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