A proposal is pending before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States aiming to make the internet access and phone calls free to millions of people across the country. This was the dominant news in the wireless service sector for past few months. Free Wi-Fi? Is it possible? The news is startling no doubt, but the truth is that the Government cannot free up the digital infrastructure any time soon. Even if the FCC approves the proposal, it will take several years to set up free networks.


Does the esoteric telecom policy appear as a utopian story that adds up a new topic of controversy over the existing battles of internet? Instead it will be right to say the notion “free Wi-Fi” puts an end to the battle over the access of internet. It actually starts off a new encounter between two major industries. The wireless industry for most obvious reason is not in favor of the plan. The $178 billion industry is in the fear of losing their business and is lobbying against the proposal.

On the other side, tech giants Microsoft and Google visualize free Wi-Fi can work as a catalyst for several innovations. It is implied that the approach will increase the sale of their products and so their intense interest. Google not even waits for the Government’s decision to offer free Wi-Fi; the company has recently launched free Wi-Fi in Chelsea neighborhood.

Even if the Government is ready to take up the initiative to extend free Wi-Fi in almost every metropolitan area in the United States, how it will be accomplished? There are not many details about it, though most of the people are of the opinion that the Government will force TV stations to sell a part of their airwave spectrum rights which can be used for public Wi-Fi networks.

Here’s the background

Wireless spectrums are the frequencies used by radio, TV, satellite, cell phones and other devices. The spectrum worth billions of dollars as it is the backbone of Google, Apple, Facebook, Verizon and AT&T that make the smartphone or other mobile devices to work.

When the TV industry shifts from analog to digital, a wireless spectrum became available. The FCC has been continuously trying to figure out what exactly to do with the “white spaces” the silvers of wireless spectrum. For several years the Government is struggling with telecom firms, broadcasters, cable companies and public interest groups on how to allocate the valuable spectrum.

FCC comes up with a solution of incentive auctions for frequencies in 600 MHz band. The TV broadcasters will sell their silvers of wireless spectrum in a bidding process and the broadcasters will reimburse some of the proceeds. In return, some of the free spectrum will be available to public on an unlicensed basis, for something like Wi-Fi.

The free airwave, that is what unlicensed spectrum refers to, are used for Bluetooth headset, garage door opener or TV remote. The unlicensed spectrum that is currently in discussion is of 600 MHz is strong enough to penetrate building walls and travel greater distance. This proposal of FCC is not new and the policy has been running political gauntlet since 2004.

What was the intention behind the thought of free Wi-Fi?

Experts and policy makers are jockeying to improve and expand broadband access for every area within the country. The Americans have to pay pretty dearer amount for internet access compared to other developed countries. Everyone agreed that the broadband services in the US needs to be faster and pervasive. There is no doubt that free Wi-Fi could alter American lives in profound ways. Apart from the developments in the platforms of internet, smartphone or tablets, the nationwide free Wi-Fi network will also allow driverless car to communicate with a vehicle that is miles apart.

The reasons are fair enough to support the spur of responses that the news received, but is it really possible? It will be a multi-billion-dollar telecom model to build out and manage free wireless services. FCC is not going to bear the expenses. It will also be difficult for Federal Government to manage such a large sum. That means some deep pocketed private entity has to pay the bills. Who will do that? Washington Post was the first to break the news. However, they claimed afterwards the news had no relation with the plan to provide America free Wi-Fi. They only want to throw lights on the plan to make available the White Space spectrum, currently in use by TV broadcasters, for unlicensed uses.

Around the world, industry giants and Governments are making efforts to improve broadband speed and access. In such a circumstance, it becomes important for the FCC to provide more white space spectrum for use that can result in powerful and faster wireless services. Undoubtedly, the concept of free Wi-Fi is tempting, but, due to the complexity of the issue we can invariably reach to a conclusion that it is a thing of the future and alas, the future is not near by.