Free Wireless Internet For the Masses: Another Dumb Scheme From Washington

Illustration for article titled Free Wireless Internet For the Masses: Another Dumb Scheme From Washington

A California congresswoman has proposed yet another spectrum auction—the 2,155MHz to 2,180MHz range—with some hefty public-service requirements:
• Within two years of receiving the license, launch an "always-on" broadband with at least 200Kbps downloads
• Service is to be free of subscription, airtime and other usage fees
• "A technology protection measure" that would keep kids from the porn
• Publication of specs and standards, royalty free, so that others can develop for the network
Let me get this straight: You want some well-heeled for-profit corporation to pay potentially billions for the privilege of hastily launching a network that it can't charge money for, and let competitors provide devices for it, again for no extra money? I don't think so. I'm not pro-corporation, so much as I am pro-reality.

The Wireless Internet Nationwide for Families Act was introduced by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and backed by Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah). CNet points out that the bill sounds like a plan proposed by a startup called M2Z, which wanted to build a 384-kilobit network on this spectrum that was free, but ad-supported. If this becomes a legit spectrum auction, M2Z would presumably be one of the bidders (the FCC insisted that the company play by the usual auction rules). Rep. Eshoo says that her plan will hopefully engender "a new kind of national broadband service provider."

My instinct is that it isn't going to get very far, for assorted reasons:
• No company with enough cash to build a network like this would take the risk on a completely new business model.
• An "ad-supported" system of weak wireless broadband might be more annoying than useful, even for people who can't afford an alternative.
• The unfortunates targeted for this service would still have to buy or be given equipment that runs on the particular frequency band.
• If all you need to do is promise those low speeds, you could more cheaply create a compressed dial-up service that runs over traditional copper-wire phone lines.
• In the recently concluded 700MHz auction, the so-called D Block was left untouched because of its requirement of a nationwide public-safety network.

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Sometimes I wish politicians needed higher-ed degrees in order to serve. This scheme could have used expertise in econ, psych, engineering, maybe even a little history. [CNet]

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DISCUSSION

So there's no buisness plan in an ad-supported free wireless service? Like, you know, the same model that has supported broadcast television in the US for half a century? Yes, a small fraction of the US population uses a DVR, and many more just mute the TV to get around the ads, but it works. And of course, there's always cable (or equivalents) for those who want to pay for something faster. Although we do have ads even there too. The alternative, to continue the metaphor, would be to copy the BBC, and have the government provide the infrastructure, tax supported, and commercial free (because the money does have to come from somewhere.)

Either way, I'd be in support of something that could push higher access speeds to everyone in the country. I'm sure Verizon thinks it would jam up the internet though, and not let all their important high-paying traffic through.