Feds' plans for better Wi-Fi have carriers seeing red

Rumors of fast, free, nationwide Wi-Fi have been debunked, but the feds are trying to improve Wi-Fi -- and carriers don't like it

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When the FCC considers significant actions, it asks for public comment, and naturally most of that comes from companies that have a vested interest in the matter. As a couple of people have reported, Kang said in a tweet that she was actually writing about some of those missives to the FCC. How it turned into the greatest thing that happened to the Internet since the invention of the browser is utterly baffling, and the uncritical acceptance of her thesis was just stupid. (Hats off to the few tech writers who popped this ludicrous balloon.)

This silly incident, though, is not so different than the preposterous rumormongering by hordes of Apple groupies, who were convinced the iPhone 4S was really the iPhone 5 (which actually launched about a year later) or that Apple was going to build a cheap iPhone -- or was it a bigger iPhone?

Welcome to the reality-free world.

The truth: Tapping into "white spaces," spectrum for Wi-Fi, not offering free Wi-Fi
Here's what's really going on: The FCC and various industry folks have been noodling over something called the White Spaces Initiative for at least six years. White spaces are unused radio frequencies freed up by the migration to digital television. There's been some progress toward allocating them, and at the end of 2011 the FCC approved the very first white spaces device.

The idea is to take that piece of the spectrum and use it for Wi-Fi. Because those signals use lower frequencies than traditional Wi-Fi, they would be more powerful and better able to penetrate obstacles like walls.

Part of what the FCC does is allocate spectrum, a resource that we citizens all own. In one sense, spectrum is infinite. But in the real world, only certain parts are usable, which is why it has to be allocated in a rational way. If anyone could do anything they wanted in any corner of the spectrum, devices would constantly interfere with one another. You've probably noticed that a microwave can interfere with your cordless phone, both of which use spectrum open to multiple devices. Imagine that on a much greater scale.

It appears that Kang was really writing about white spaces and the ongoing discussion about how to use them for Internet connectivity. Not surprisingly, the carriers aren't big fans of the White Spaces Initiative because it could cut into their profits. As DSL Reports noted late last year, AT&T's buddies in Congress are trying to kill it. Companies like Google, which want everyone to be on the Web looking at ads every waking moment, favor it.

The Internet is in trouble
If you're going to think seriously about the Internet, be aware that the carriers are doing a terrible job to the point they're pushing the Web over a cliff, as noted by my colleague Galen Gruman. Wireless service is terrible in many areas, mobile payments technology is stuck because the carriers want to own it, and the fixed broadband providers are messing with tiered pricing, which would discourage -- maybe kill -- the use of bandwidth-intensive applications like online video (and preserve carriers' TV offerings, of course).

Now, they're lining up to oppose the FCC's laudable efforts to make Wi-Fi work better, for fear it will cut into cellular data revenues.

That's reality. And poorly reported stories that promise unlimited quantities of free stuff are simply diversions that keep us from seeing it.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here (Add a comment) so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill@billsnyder.biz. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "Feds' plans for better Wi-Fi have carriers seeing red," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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