The Washington Post published a confusing article on Monday vaguely suggesting that the FCC is seeking to provide free wi-fi service across the US. They are not. To further complicate matters, other technology blogs have also picked up on the story without clarifying what was actually free.
While the federal government may have laid out the interstate highway system, it has no plans to recreate the same mobility for web-surfers. The FCC project, otherwise known as White Space, is seeking to free up some spectrum from empty, unused TV channels and turn it into “super-wifi” frequencies that can travel faster, while penetrating through barriers better than typical wi-fi. The “freeing up” of this spectrum could potentially mean better wi-fi options, though you’d still need to pay a provider for building the infrastructure and managing such a vast network.
Technology companies like Google have already experimented with city-wide wi-fi networks with little success. In 2007, Google and Earthlink won a bid to offer free wi-fi in San Francisco, but the project never materialized. Earthlink also abandoned its botched municipal wi-fi attempts in New Orleans, Corpus Christi, and Milpitas. In the meantime, cities like Denver, Houston, and Raleigh have built small, free wi-fi networks in designated zones for its citizens.
Free wi-fi sounds absolutely magical, but would the government build such a network? There’s already a struggle to convince Americans the value in creating a much needed national rail system.