The nation-spanning wireless network is the pet project of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has in the past championed the need for an upheaval in the United States’ rather complacent broadband industry. This super pervasive net might be just such an innovator, since free, ubiquitous Internet access means that literally nothing and nobody needs remain unlinked.
While there are a few obvious benefits to such a network (casual users might be able to drop Internet service from their carriers altogether, you could make phone calls after you run out of minutes, you wouldn’t need to worry about running out of coverage on a small network, etc.), the real potential comes from what have, up until now, been futuristic dreams.
Imagine a city where literally every single car is tied to the Internet, providing a real-time indication of traffic flow for city managers. Solar-powered sensors can be deployed to track everything from water flow to wind changes, allowing more accurate weather prediction and forecasting. Your pets, kids, cars, and computers need never again be lost, since even a basic Wi-Fi chip would pinpoint their location down to a specific area. The list goes on and on, but when the Internet becomes simultaneously free and omnipresent, there’s no limit to the things that might be created.
It may seem cynical, but few would be surprised to learn that many network providers are against the creation of just such a network; despite the obvious potential for good, it also represents a serious danger to their bottom line. The highest profit users, those customers that subscribe to a big (or sometimes the only) package while barely checking their email a couple of times a day, are the users most likely to be swayed by such a service.
Similarly, tablet users, and other data-only mobile customers, could make the switch.
These arguments are being fought tooth and nail by a number of well-known tech titans, such as Microsoft and Google. Despite Google’s recent foray into providing high-speed Internet in the form of Google Fiber, the company is far more interested in getting more users online and looking at Google properties – and if this network gets built, that’s all but guaranteed to happen.
Using technology similar to, but simultaneously more powerful than traditional Wi-Fi networking, the service would take advantage of reclaimed wireless spectrum in order to provide the service. Spectrum at the lower end of the range (think closer to 700MHz than the Wi-Fi traditional 2.4GHz or 5GHz) would be much more capable in terms of transmitting data over long distances, through objects like trees and buildings, and reach the users most in need of such a network (rural and/or poor citizens).
The spectrum would come from the now-unused analog TV spaces owned by local and national broadcasters. It’s not known whether the technology is even feasible to build the network, let alone likely, but it isn’t stopping the FCC from looking into the possibility. One anonymous individual involved with the discussions commented that the panel wanted the technology and service to be dedicated to serving the end user, not the carrier – no surprise, then, that those same carriers wish to see the proposal dismantled before the first device can connect.