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FCC Proposal Would Cover the US With Public Wi-Fi 299

Posted by timothy
from the beggar-thy-neighbor dept.
pigrabbitbear writes "Internet access is an essential need on par with education access, but at what point do regulators recognize that? When will government officials acknowledge that widespread, guaranteed access is essential to fostering growth in the country? Somewhat surprisingly, that time is now, as the FCC is now calling for nationwide free wi-fi networks to be opened up to the public. The FCC proposes buying back spectrum from TV stations that would allow for what the Washington Post is dubbing 'super wi-fi,' as the commission wants to cover the country with wide-ranging, highly-penetrative networks. Essentially, you can imagine the proposal as covering a majority of the country with open-access data networks, similar to cell networks now, that your car, tablet, or even phone could connect to. That means no one is ever disconnected, and some folks – especially light users and the poor – could likely ditch regular Internet and cell plans altogether."
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FCC Proposal Would Cover the US With Public Wi-Fi

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  • Cue the (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bobstreo (1320787) on Monday February 04, 2013 @01:48PM (#42786911)

    Lobby "contributions" from Sprint, AT&T Tmobile, Comcast, Time Warner... The war chests of our representatives and senators will overflow with joy
    if they defeat this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @01:48PM (#42786913)

    How long before this free wifi resembles the great firewall of china?

  • by ClassicASP (1791116) on Monday February 04, 2013 @01:52PM (#42786959)
    You get what you pay for
  • by wolfemi1 (765089) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:00PM (#42787027)

    Internet Access should be like Library Access.

    It is a little different because it is for knowledge, commerce, and entertainmnet.

    Why does that make it different? The library is also for knowledge, commerce (though less so), and entertainment.

  • Nice idea, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ilsaloving (1534307) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:00PM (#42787033)

    How many municipalities have been sued into oblivion by incumbents who cried "unfair competition"?

  • Re:Cue the (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:02PM (#42787055) Homepage Journal
    Wait...wait...wait...

    The basic premise starting this article:

    ""Internet access is an essential need on par with education access..."

    Internet access is on par with educational access? Seriously?

    While I will concede it IS important, it is helpful, and makes many things convenient these days...I seriously can't put up there with education. Internet access, while really cool and fun, is still in the category of luxury item. You can get by just fine without it. You won't starve, you won't go into convulsions, you won't die without it.

    If you really need it, and can't afford the luxury of having it run into your very own home, you can always go to the public library to use it there (ok, so looking at pr0n there might be a bit more inconvenient than in the privacy of one's own home).

    I mean, widespread use and access of the internet (more specifically for most people the web portion of it) is a fairly recent thing. People still can get by just fine without it.

    I mean..what's next...claiming internet access is a basic human right?

  • Essential need? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stevegee58 (1179505) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:03PM (#42787069) Journal
    I thought the only essential needs were food, water and shelter.
  • Methinks . . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bogidu (300637) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:07PM (#42787097)

    My takehome pay just decreased again.

  • Re:Cue the (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:11PM (#42787143)

    You can get by just fine without it. You won't starve, you won't go into convulsions, you won't die without it.

    [...]
    If you really need it, and can't afford the luxury of having it run into your very own home, you can always go to the public library to use it there

    I fail to see how this differs from education.

  • Re:Cue the (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dins (2538550) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:11PM (#42787147)

    Internet access and educational access are quickly becoming the same thing. I have a 15 year old son. Of course he's good with computers and the internet (he's my son after all) but I'm amazed at what his high school coursework requires now. It all but assumes he has constant access to the internet. Hell he even uses his iPod on the school's wifi network for classwork in class.

    Of course we have good access at home, but if a kid didn't it would be a huge handicap. Yes, they can go to school computer labs and the library, etc., but even that access is dwindling now that some schools all but assume a good computer and internet access at home. His school is a very good school, but all schools will follow suit eventually.

  • Re:Cue the (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jimmy_dean (463322) <james,hodapp&gmail,com> on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:20PM (#42787247) Homepage

    I agree. Not only is it a luxury item that is important, but it's too important for the government to control. Can you imagine the security implications and headaches a network like this would have? There are so many technical, economic and legal unintended consequences to this, it's not even funny. If the government might do anything (and even here I'm skeptical), they should help make sure that the current private means of getting on the 'net remain competitive and sooner than later, cheap Internet in many different forms will be ubiquitous without the unintended consequences that only a government can create.

    I predict this will also be a new avenue for the US federal government to regulate the Internet into oblivion. This is a setup for a massive new power grab.

  • Re:Methinks . . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by asylumx (881307) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:20PM (#42787249)
    I'd rather pay my $60/mo to the gov't than to Comcast, assuming I get a similar service in return.
  • by cdecoro (882384) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:26PM (#42787297)

    It's all well and good to talk about internet access being a "right" or a "public service," but please realize that simply because some government passes a law saying so, doesn't mean that wide-spread free internet access will come to pass. Take the example of my library: they are closed at times that someone might actually want to go, like in the evening after normal people from work, most of Sunday, and all major -- and most minor -- holidays. Their computer terminals seem to be something from the era of the IBM AT; and there are only 4 of them. The employees are surly and even aggressive, and don't care to be even the slightest bit helpful. And the entire building is decrepit and smells.

    So I have the "right" to free information at a library (actually, I pay for it in taxes, but whatever), but the manifestation of that right is such that I don't actually want it. Yet we are expected to believe that, although our government can't run a library, despite having had hundreds of years to figure out, they're going to do a great job with modern and rapidly changing technologies. Call me pessimistic, but I don't see it happening.

    The solution is to promote competition in Internet access: end the (government-created and propped-up) cable, phone, and wireless monopolies, and once there is a healthy market, let the market take care of lowering prices.

    Recall that the U.S.S.R. declared food to be a basic human right, to be provided by the government. And who could argue with that, right? Yet the result was bread lines and empty shelves. In the U.S., we don't declare food to be a government-provided right, and yet we have so much food that our poor people are obese.

    To preempt the flamers: no, I'm not arguing that the government should never have a role in assisting the poor (sometimes it should), or that companies are always good, or that the market is always perfect (they aren't; it's not). But I am extremely cautious in endorsing this as a good idea, for the above-stated reasons that have nothing to do with my own (non-existant) profit margins or political donations. So when others oppose it, please don't automatically ascribe such motives to them, either.

  • Re:Cue the (Score:4, Insightful)

    by radiumsoup (741987) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:33PM (#42787357)

    the Sausage Master is right. Single provider = single point of control, and that's not a good thing. Competition (and by that, I mean *real* competition, none of this "we'll create health care exchanges that cut off private companies at the knees so the only thing left is the government option" bullshit) breeds innovation and lower costs. Best thing the government could do for truly stimulating competition for low cost internet (not free internet, mind you, as that's a red herring) would be to sponsor some sort of X-Prize style competition to design and implement some regional or multi-state test platform for a currently underserved area, like the Midwest or parts of the South. Hell, the government doesn't even really need to do this - it could be sponsored by the Bill Gates foundation or something similar. I'm not an infrastructure guy, so I'm sure there are caveats that would need to be spelled out in advance, but having the FCC in charge would make something as stupid as the Janet Jackson Nipplegate thing seem like the most worthwhile undertaking ever.

  • by SydShamino (547793) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:35PM (#42787377)

    Have you been to a library? They don't card you when you walk in the door, only if/when you want to leave with some of their property for free.

  • Re:Cue the (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hsmith (818216) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:43PM (#42787485)
    Defeat it? Hell, they are probably lobbying FOR IT. Why try to get individual customers when you have have the government pay your company to cover everyone?

    Just like Obamacare was pushed by insurance companies - the government mandating you customers? Why would they fight it?
  • As needs be... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Okian Warrior (537106) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:44PM (#42787495) Homepage Journal

    I thought the only essential needs were food, water and shelter.

    That's true, along with air and sleep*.

    Also, needs are defined in different ways depending on circumstance, with no consensus. Certainly food is a need, but is sunshine? We get vitamin D from sunshine, and diet can't make up for lack. Sex is a biological imperative, but can at any time be put off until later.

    Needs also form a sort of "hierarchy" [wikipedia.org], where once you are satisfied at a certain level, adding more at that level will gain you nothing. A company can't raise morale by making the bathroom even cleaner than it is - once the bathroom is "clean enough", extra work makes no appreciable difference. Once you have enough to eat, having more doesn't make you happier.

    "Safety" is also a need, and depending on the school of thought it comes before or after food and water.

    Once you have several layers of needs met, you reach the layer of "self actualization", which is loosely "the need to accomplish something".

    That's what this proposal addresses - the need for people to better themselves, and to do something useful with their time.

    This proposal is a good idea in many ways - ethically, economically, technically, environmentally. There's no down-side that I can see.

    To take one example (economics), new businesses arise from innovation built on infrastructure. This type of infrastructure will foster an enormous boon in productivity, business, employment, and general well-being of people in the country.

    In the same manner that the Interstate Highway System [wikipedia.org] fostered economic progress by giving companies easy access to cheap product delivery.

    This is exactly the type of project that centralized government should be doing - it promotes growth, increased productivity, jobs, and general welfare. It's of benefit to the people, and not pork directed to specific selected companies.

    *I hope this doesn't read as snarky - that's not my intent.

  • Re:Methinks . . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ozydingo (922211) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:44PM (#42787497)

    First, don't assume the government has your best interests at heart (they don't), and second assume everything you do will be fully and completely monitored without the slightest expectation of privacy.

    Yep, sounds like similar service to me

  • by radiumsoup (741987) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:45PM (#42787515)

    it's not sold, it's licensed, and the Federal government already manages the spectrum, in exactly the way you probably think they should. The term "buyback" would apply to existing licenses which have not yet expired. Its current use is contested because a large number of spectrum users never actually paid for the portion they've licensed out to begin with, so to have the government pay those licensees to abandon the license is a hotly debated topic.

    But to pull the plug on licensees without giving them a viable alternative is highly disruptive to commerce. If hardware already exists which was designed for a certain band, and that band is suddenly pulled because of some bureaucrat's hardon for "free" wifi, then the infrastructure that is already in place would become useless without modification. The "buyback" funds are a way to encourage the infrastructure owners to go along with the relicensing; they would have the funds provided to convert or update the infrastructure to adapt to the spectrum change. Again, it might not be the best way to go about doing things, but it doesn't mean that pulling the rug out from under everyone is any better.

  • Re:Cue the (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Monday February 04, 2013 @02:53PM (#42787607)

    Unfortunately that someone doesn't have a clue on how to use the title vs the body of his comment.

  • Re:Cue the (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mdielmann (514750) on Monday February 04, 2013 @03:04PM (#42787725) Homepage Journal

    Not only is it a luxury item that is important, but it's too important for the government to control.

    So, more important than roads, making sure drugs are safe for their intended use, and the protection of the sovereignty of your nation. Gotcha.

  • Re:Cue the (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sporkinum (655143) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:32PM (#42789529)

    "But you also could have mentioned that government managed public wifi will once again demonstrate the Tragedy of the Commons [wikipedia.org] as it slips inevitably into a cesspool of hackers, over-saturated bandwidth, government monitoring, censorship, and the never ending cries of "won't somebody please think of the children"

    This is exactly what I was thinking. Free WiFi sounds great, but in practice it would most likely end up like this comment.

  • Re:Cue the (Score:3, Insightful)

    by taz346 (2715665) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:54PM (#42789869)
    Yes, as when the U.S. government "failed" by financing and building the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s to bring cheap electricity to rural areas throughout the southern U.S. that were poorly served or completely unserved by the private utilities of the day. That's just one example of government stepping in to do what private companies only interested in short-term profits would never do. Today people in many countries enjoy better, more widespread, far cheaper Internet and Wifi access than the U.S., where most people have, at best, a choice of two monopolistic carriers only interested in squeezing higher and higher profits out of their customers. That's why, even in areas where U.S. citizens do have access to broadband and Wifi, it's way slower than many countries in Europe and Asia, costs far more, and is falling further and further behind. The private market is failing U.S. consumers.
  • Re:Cue the (Score:2, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday February 04, 2013 @05:59PM (#42789941)
    I'd submit that the ditch diggers should be people who prove themselves unable to do anything more useful for society. Not just people whose parents couldn't afford better education certifications or internet service.

    Oh, crap, I've outed myself as a crazy socialist. Nevermind. Clearly the free market will sort out the best and brightest in the most efficient way possible. Clearly those without good internet access or good educations were always going to be useless, while every trust-fund kid was destined for great things, capitalism in education is THAT good that it goes back in time. If those people didn't want to be poor, they should have been born to more privileged families.
  • Re:As needs be... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cdrguru (88047) on Monday February 04, 2013 @06:48PM (#42790679) Homepage

    Unfortunately, what the Interstate Highway System gave us was unregulated trucking, which in turn pushed the railroads out of the freight business almost completely. With no need for rail freight except in special cases, we have ripped up much of the rail network and built suburbs over it. Most of the passenger rail lines were sold off to the freight companies as well.

    People are now thinking it might be nice to take the train somewhere, only to find out there are no rails left. And putting new rails in would require demolishing lots and lots of houses and streets.

    Was all of this planned?

    A nationwide wireless Internet service might be a good thing. It might provide some competition to Google who will certainly offer such a thing if allowed to - and use it for ad revenue and collecting demographic data to sell. I do not like the idea that all Internet access will be controlled by the government and Google in a few years, but that is exactly where we are heading.

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