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Tech, telecom giants take sides as FCC proposes large public WiFi networks

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Story courtesy of the Washington Post. 

 

 

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Tech, telecom giants take sides as FCC proposes large public WiFi networks

 

By Cecilia KangPublished: February 3

 

The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.

 

The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to reconsider the idea, analysts say.

 

That has been countered by an equally intense campaign from GoogleMicrosoft and other tech giants who say a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor.

 

The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.

 

The new WiFi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate with another vehicle a mile away or a patient’s heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.

 

If approved by the FCC, the free networks would still take several years to set up. And, with no one actively managing them, con­nections could easily become jammed in major cities. But public WiFi could allow many consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet. The frugal-minded could even use the service in their homes, allowing them to cut off expensive Internet bills.

 

“For a casual user of the Web, perhaps this could replace carrier service,” said Jeffrey Silva, an analyst at the Medley Global Advisors research firm. “Because it is more plentiful and there is no price tag, it could have a real appeal to some people.”

 

The major wireless carriers own much more spectrum than what is being proposed for public WiFi, making their networks more robust, experts say.

 

Designed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the plan would be a global first. When the U.S. government made a limited amount of unlicensed airwaves available in 1985, an unexpected explosion in innovation followed. Baby monitors, garage door openers and wireless stage microphones were created. Millions of homes now run their own wireless networks, connecting tablets, game consoles, kitchen appli­ances and security systems to the Internet.

 

“Freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free-market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future and benefits consumers,” Genachow­ski said in a an e-mailed statement.

 

Some companies and cities are already moving in this direction. Google is providing free WiFi to the public in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and parts of Silicon Valley.

 

Cities support the idea because the networks would lower costs for schools and businesses or help vacationers easily find tourist spots. Consumer advocates note the benefits to the poor, who often cannot afford high cellphone and Internet bills.

 

The proposal would require local television stations and other broadcasters to sell a chunk of airwaves to the government that would be used for the public WiFi networks. It is not clear whether these companies would be willing to do so.

 

The FCC’s plan is part of a broader strategy to repurpose entire swaths of the nation’s airwaves to accomplish a number of goals, including bolstering cellular networks and creating a dedicated channel for emergency responders.

 

Some Republican lawmakers have criticized Genachowski for his idea of creating free WiFi networks, noting that an auction of the airwaves would raise billions for the U.S. Treasury.

 

That sentiment echoes arguments made by companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon WirelessIntel and Qualcomm, in a letter to the FCC staff late last month, that the government should focus its attention on selling the airwaves to businesses.

 

Some of these companies also cautioned that a free WiFi service could interfere with existing cellular networks and television broadcasts.

 

Intel, whose chips are used in many of the devices that operate on cellular networks, fears that the new WiFi service would crowd the airwaves. The company said it would rather the FCC use the airwaves from television stations to bolster high-speed cellular networks, known as 4G.

 

“We think that that spectrum would be most useful to the larger society and to broadband deployment if it were licensed,” said Peter Pitsch, the executive director of communications for Intel. “As unlicensed, there would be a disincentive to invest in expensive networking equipment and provide users with optimal quality of service.”

 

Cisco and other telecommunications equipment firms told the FCC that it needs to test the airwaves more for potential interference.

 

“Cisco strongly urges the commission to firmly retreat from the notion that it can predict, or should predict . . . how the unlicensed guard bands might be used,” the networking giant wrote.

 

Supporters of the free-WiFi plan say telecom equipment firms have long enjoyed lucrative relationships with cellular carriers and may not want to disrupt that model.

 

An FCC official added that there is little proof so far that the spectrum that could be used for public WiFi systems would knock out broadcast and 4G wireless signals.

 

“We want our policy to be more end-user-centric and not carrier-centric. That’s where there is a difference in opinion” with carriers and their partners, said a senior FCC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is still being considered by the five-member panel.

 

The lobbying from the cellular industry motivated longtime rivals Google and Microsoft to join forces to support the FCC’s proposal. Both companies would benefit from a boom in new devices that could access the free WiFi networks.

 

These companies want corporations to multiply the number of computers, robots, devices and other machines that are able to connect to the Internet, analysts said. They want cars that drive themselves to have more robust Internet access.

 

More public WiFi, they say, will spur the use of “millions of de­vices that will compose the coming Internet of things,” the firms wrote in their comment to the FCC last week.

 

“What this does for the first time is bring the prospect of cheap broadband, but like any proposal it has to get through a political process first,” said Harold Feld, a vice president at the public interest group Public Knowledge.

 

© The Washington Post Company

 

Thoughts? I like this idea, because the internet is becoming more and more like a basic need and less and less of a luxury, since almost everything today relies on computer and on the web. What do you guys think, especially those who work in the computer field? 

 

Read more-

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/tech-telecom-giants-take-sides-as-fcc-proposes-large-public-wifi-networks/2013/02/03/eb27d3e0-698b-11e2-ada3-d86a4806d5ee_story.html?hpid=z1

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I got a better idea (somewhat). Let them build this system, but reserve it for welfare recipients and certain others only like the Assurance Wireless Obamaphone BS. Wouldn't really agree with that either, IMO if you want free internet/computer access then go to the f**king library or the Apple store. There is a whole industry around offering internet access, and we shouldn't be trying to take down yet another major industry in this country to offer for free something that millions pay for each month with no issues. If anything, like I said offer this to the poor and that's it, but really those people can go to a library if they want to get online or if they have a computer then go somewhere like the mall and go online there for free. I have no problem with the private sector offering free wi-fi at their expense to their customers, like SIMON Malls, Apple, Home Depot, etc. do already, but we don't need a massive public wi-fi network for everyone when I (as well as most of the country) don't care about writing a check to Verizon every month for my FiOS internet and the private sector (and your local library) already offers free wi-fi at certain places. This is just another scheme to take down another industry, encourage mooching off the government/taxpayers, and most of all KEEP TABS ON EVERYONE!

Edited by Orion VII 4 Life

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Obamaphone?, Reaganphone? It doesn't matter what you call it but it seems you've overlooked the main argument for government-run wifi networks. I'm all for free enterprise but Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, ATT do not own the wireless spectrums we pay for. They make a profit on the usage of those spectrum bands but you, John and Jane Q. Public, own that radio spectrum, through the US government. You are entirely correct that millions of Americans willingly pay the telcos monthly for the use of said spectrum but doesn't it seem a little strange that you are actually paying someone for the use of something we, the public, already own.. The companies argument is that they built out the infrastructure across the country for the benefit of the public but in reality it's for their own benefit. That's why there are swaths of the country with spotty or no coverage at all. I realize those companies business models are built on their leasing of the public spectrum and I don't pretend to know how that model can be reconciled with government operation of the airwaves but don't forget that none of those private companies actually own those airwaves. Verizon, AT&T, CBS, NBC-Comcast, Fox, ABC-Disney none of them own the airwaves. The spectrum is leased to these companies by us, the public .Don't fall for the spin. In the real world it's the industry who is mooching off the government/taxpayers and keeping tabs on us for the government and using our airwaves to do so. Just my opinion though. Carry on.

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the problem with a public internet service like that, that is government run, there is a big possibility for abuse such as keeping tabs on what people search for, censoring sites, etc. Its not like a company where if service sucks you can go to someone else, youre stuck with the federal government unless you are able to emigrate somewhere else.

 

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, the current internet model is working well for a lot of people. Cell phone data plans could be cheaper but thats a discussion for another day.

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Obamaphone?, Reaganphone? It doesn't matter what you call it but it seems you've overlooked the main argument for government-run wifi networks. I'm all for free enterprise but Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, ATT do not own the wireless spectrums we pay for. They make a profit on the usage of those spectrum bands but you, John and Jane Q. Public, own that radio spectrum, through the US government. You are entirely correct that millions of Americans willingly pay the telcos monthly for the use of said spectrum but doesn't it seem a little strange that you are actually paying someone for the use of something we, the public, already own.. The companies argument is that they built out the infrastructure across the country for the benefit of the public but in reality it's for their own benefit. That's why there are swaths of the country with spotty or no coverage at all. I realize those companies business models are built on their leasing of the public spectrum and I don't pretend to know how that model can be reconciled with government operation of the airwaves but don't forget that none of those private companies actually own those airwaves. Verizon, AT&T, CBS, NBC-Comcast, Fox, ABC-Disney none of them own the airwaves. The spectrum is leased to these companies by us, the public .Don't fall for the spin. In the real world it's the industry who is mooching off the government/taxpayers and keeping tabs on us for the government and using our airwaves to do so. Just my opinion though. Carry on.

My sentiment exactly... As an industrialized country the internet and cell phone bills should be lower and should have far more coverage for those in rural areas... Hell forget about rural areas... Many people in Manhattan can't even get decent coverage... These cell phone companies are doing the bare minimum and charging us the maximum for sh*t service and what they're afraid of is their greedy ways being uncovered.

 

the problem with a public internet service like that, that is government run, there is a big possibility for abuse such as keeping tabs on what people search for, censoring sites, etc. Its not like a company where if service sucks you can go to someone else, youre stuck with the federal government unless you are able to emigrate somewhere else.

 

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, the current internet model is working well for a lot of people. Cell phone data plans could be cheaper but thats a discussion for another day.

I would argue that the current set up is broke.  If you're with a company and you don't like their service, you usually have to pay to switch to someone else ($300+ in some cases) which is ridiculous.  Not only that but cell coverage SUCKS.  I am constantly dropping signal on my phone and I'm not getting the service that I paid for.  I'm not saying that I totally agree with this set up either, but I do think they the cell phone industry needs to be restructured. First off the service should be cheaper and second it should be more readily available to folks in rural areas.  Forget about poor people... Some people simply can't get coverage because of where they live which is ridiculous when the cell phone companies claim that they "built out the system".  Pfft please... I can barely get coverage in my office and I'm dead smack in Manhattan and I'm paying over $100.00 a month just for my cell phone service alone and certainly not using all of my minutes, data or text messages... The cell phone companies care about profits and nothing more.  If they were truly concerned about "coverage" they would be giving us what we're paying for and not robbing us.

Edited by Via Garibaldi 8

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I got a better idea (somewhat). Let them build this system, but reserve it for welfare recipients and certain others only like the Assurance Wireless Obamaphone BS. Wouldn't really agree with that either, IMO if you want free internet/computer access then go to the f**king library or the Apple store. There is a whole industry around offering internet access, and we shouldn't be trying to take down yet another major industry in this country to offer for free something that millions pay for each month with no issues. If anything, like I said offer this to the poor and that's it, but really those people can go to a library if they want to get online or if they have a computer then go somewhere like the mall and go online there for free. I have no problem with the private sector offering free wi-fi at their expense to their customers, like SIMON Malls, Apple, Home Depot, etc. do already, but we don't need a massive public wi-fi network for everyone when I (as well as most of the country) don't care about writing a check to Verizon every month for my FiOS internet and the private sector (and your local library) already offers free wi-fi at certain places. This is just another scheme to take down another industry, encourage mooching off the government/taxpayers, and most of all KEEP TABS ON EVERYONE!

I think they should build it and those who want to use it will do that.  If it's one big network it'll be open and not necessarily secured I would imagine and that's one selling point that cell phone companies can make for those that want their privacy.  On the flip side I do think that you raise some good points but I can also see the benefits of this.  If you can't get coverage on your phone or internet due to sh*t service (as many people currently have) then you can tap into this network.  Many people are struggling in this economy and looking to save or just don't feel that they're getting their monies worth for that they pay (I'm in this field)...

 

I pay almost $50.00 for my internet and I'm not even getting FiOS because they are still working on getting all of Riverdale covered, so I had to switch from FiOS and go to DSL and pay more for what I am getting.   Now I have my cell service with Verizon too and that of late hasn't been that great for the $119.00 a month bill I get... 

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the problem with a public internet service like that, that is government run, there is a big possibility for abuse such as keeping tabs on what people search for, censoring sites, etc. Its not like a company where if service sucks you can go to someone else, youre stuck with the federal government unless you are able to emigrate somewhere else.

 

If it ain't broke, don't fix it, the current internet model is working well for a lot of people. Cell phone data plans could be cheaper but thats a discussion for another day.

Cellular networks and the internet itself, along with landlines, have always been subject to government regulation. They probably have been keeping tabs on  calls and transmissions since before WWI. ISPs and the web grew out of ARAPNET and the like so you can bet they've been watching the web since it's creation. I can bet with almost 100% certainty that all internet providers have kept track of searches, sites, and such especially after 9/11 and the "Patriot Act".. Read the service agreement of any ISP or cell provider. If you signed one you signed away any expected right of privacy no matter who you signed up with. Don't think that the US government or any of the service providers can't and won't censor or block service like China, Iran and the like. They can do it anytime they want to and you agreed to it when you activated the service. Ma Bell and her offspring, broadcast and cable networks, ISPs, they all can do it if ordered or if they feel like it whenever they want and there is no recourse as far as I can see. You can't go elsewhere even if you wanted to. Carry on.

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Cellular networks and the internet itself, along with landlines, have always been subject to government regulation. They probably have been keeping tabs on  calls and transmissions since before WWI. ISPs and the web grew out of ARAPNET and the like so you can bet they've been watching the web since it's creation. I can bet with almost 100% certainty that all internet providers have kept track of searches, sites, and such especially after 9/11 and the "Patriot Act".. Read the service agreement of any ISP or cell provider. If you signed one you signed away any expected right of privacy no matter who you signed up with. Don't think that the US government or any of the service providers can't and won't censor or block service like China, Iran and the like. They can do it anytime they want to and you agreed to it when you activated the service. Ma Bell and her offspring, broadcast and cable networks, ISPs, they all can do it if ordered or if they feel like it whenever they want and there is no recourse as far as I can see. You can't go elsewhere even if you wanted to. Carry on.

Very true... All it takes is a subpoena for the cops to get information turned over to them about a person's ISP, text messages and so on.  Granted there is certain information that cell phone companies aren't required to keep very long due to the amount of data involved but still... Privacy is certainly not a guarantee with these companies.

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Very interesting because this is the first time the Federal Government has ever proposed such a huge WiFi network. Usually, its up to the cities to equip themselves with Municipal Wireless Networks. I'm all for this idea as long as it is a completely open-internet network while keeping user information safe and private. I don't wanna see sites blocked or certain programs not allowed to access the internet. At the same time, I don't want to see users getting hacked or their information being shared with unwanted people.

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Since everyone seems to have shifted the discusion to privacy realted issues, I'll respond to this question below.

 

Thoughts? I like this idea, because the internet is becoming more and more like a basic need and less and less of a luxury, since almost everything today relies on computer and on the web. What do you guys think, especially those who work in the computer field? 

I have to ask how this would exactly benefit the low income? As it is, to access free commercial wifi networks you need a device such as a mobile phone or a computer. So even if this proposal were to become a reality, how would benefit those that don't have the money to drop $300 or $400 on electronics. The fact is that it doesn't. The people that would supposedly benefit would be the same people that can't afford to buy a device to access the network. 

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Since everyone seems to have shifted the discusion to privacy realted issues, I'll respond to this question below.

 

I have to ask how this would exactly benefit the low income? As it is, to access free commercial wifi networks you need a device such as a mobile phone or a computer. So even if this proposal were to become a reality, how would benefit those that don't have the money to drop $300 or $400 on electronics. The fact is that it doesn't. The people that would supposedly benefit would be the same people that can't afford to buy a device to access the network. 

Actually it would be because ideally some schools would like to be able to buy electronic devices for the kids to take home with them and use.  I heard a while ago that some schools were exploring this idea if they were given funding for it because that's the way in which we're heading.  As the article said the schools could get internet cheaper.  That in turn could free up monies for them to buy other things for the students to use.  The internet is certainly much better and more accessible for kids today than it was back in the 90s. I still remember using AOL dial-up.  56k was like "amazing" back then if you could get on via AOL of course and now even thinking about it makes me cringe.

 

The other thing that these cell phone companies seem to be trying to do is memic what cell phone providers in Europe do which is that they make you pay for EVERYTHING except for incoming calls which we have to pay for here which annoys me.  In Europe there wasn't this idea of unlimited plans but rather that you paid for what you used which is insane.  They were kind of moving towards unlimited plans on some level when I was living there but I paid for my internet based on what I used, so if there is another way in which we can access the internet it would be great because internet seems to be becoming more expensive instead of cheaper. You would think we were a third world country or something.  Caps on data use... It's insane... We live in a world that is becoming more and more heavily dependent on the internet.  I was on my laptop this morning looking at my bills and I paid about 5 bills electronically in about 10 minutes with some sites taking a bit longer only because more information was needed for me to pay the bill. Even ConEdison finally allows you to pay your  electric bill online, even though the site is as backwards as hell, but still pretty amazing.  The only thing I have to schlepp to the post office for nowadays is to send my check for my apartment each month but everything else I happily pay electronically.

Edited by Via Garibaldi 8

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Actually it would be because ideally some schools would like to be able to buy electronic devices for the kids to take home with them and use.  I heard a while ago that some schools were exploring this idea if they were given funding for it because that's the way in which we're heading.  As the article said the schools could get internet cheaper.  That in turn could free up monies for them to buy other things for the students to use.  The internet is certainly much better and more accessible for kids today than it was back in the 90s. I still remember using AOL dial-up.  56k was like "amazing" back then if you could get on via AOL of course and now even thinking about it makes me cringe.

Remember those damn "trial" discs AOL would mail to your house or sometimes in magazines? Hilarious just thinking about them.

 

Well if schools can secure the funds to purchase these devices than I'm all for it. It pains me to remember my weekly visits to the local library and arriving there up to an hour before they actually opened just so I could secure a computer before they were all taken. And with the 60 minute sessions and the 120 minute allowance per day, I'd usually would have to plan multiple visits to complete something for school or just to enjoy a chatroom or forum.

 

 

The other thing that these cell phone companies seem to be trying to do is memic what cell phone providers in Europe do which is that they make you pay for EVERYTHING except for incoming calls which we have to pay for here which annoys me.  In Europe there wasn't this idea of unlimited plans but rather that you paid for what you used which is insane.  They were kind of moving towards unlimited plans on some level when I was living there but I paid for my internet based on what I used, so if there is another way in which we can access the internet it would be great because internet seems to be becoming more expensive instead of cheaper. You would think we were a third world country or something.  Caps on data use... It's insane... We live in a world that is becoming more and more heavily dependent on the internet.  I was on my laptop this morning looking at my bills and I paid about 5 bills electronically in about 10 minutes with some sites taking a bit longer only because more information was needed for me to pay the bill. Even ConEdison finally allows you to pay your  electric bill online, even though the site is as backwards as hell, but still pretty amazing.  The only thing I have to schlepp to the post office for nowadays is to send my check for my apartment each month but everything else I happily pay electronically.

Regarding mobile providers and plans, I believe Sprint PCS and AT&T at one point offered plans as you described, "pay for use". I would assume the prepaid mobile market eventually evolved from such plans. I recall back then the phones themselves were cheap as hell, but the plans were expensive in comparison. It was way cheaper just to use a payphone when on the go. It's gotten better, but there's much room for improvement.

 

And in regard to electronic payments, I don't mind over the phone, but if given the option, I'd prefer to do my transactions in person. I feel it's best just to fork the cash over directly to avoid any misunderstandings.

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Remember those damn "trial" discs AOL would mail to your house or sometimes in magazines? Hilarious just thinking about them.

I sure do... lol

 

Well if schools can secure the funds to purchase these devices than I'm all for it. It pains me to remember my weekly visits to the local library and arriving there up to an hour before they actually opened just so I could secure a computer before they were all taken. And with the 60 minute sessions and the 120 minute allowance per day, I'd usually would have to plan multiple visits to complete something for school or just to enjoy a chatroom or forum.

Yep, I remember those days a well, though luckily for me I had my own computer at home.

 

Regarding mobile providers and plans, I believe Sprint PCS and AT&T at one point offered plans as you described, "pay for use". I would assume the prepaid mobile market eventually evolved from such plans. I recall back then the phones themselves were cheap as hell, but the plans were expensive in comparison. It was way cheaper just to use a payphone when on the go. It's gotten better, but there's much room for improvement.

 

And in regard to electronic payments, I don't mind over the phone, but if given the option, I'd prefer to do my transactions in person. I feel it's best just to fork the cash over directly to avoid any misunderstandings.

lol... Customer service sucks these days, so I find myself doing more and more transactions online, this way I can take my time, don't have to deal with attitude or someone who can't even greet me because they're so busy yacking to the person next to them.

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