Entities behind the We Heart WiFi effort launched at the SXSW conference are calling on the FCC to expand the amount of TV white-space spectrum (TVWS), alleging such unlicensed spectrum is a necessary ingredient in creating the competition necessary for expanding high-speed broadband to more people.
The We Heart WiFi marketing campaign is the brainchild of Connected.io, in partnership with Union Square Ventures. The former calls itself an umbrella for policy and advocacy projects related to peer networks and networked innovation and was organized by Nick Grossman, who works on advocacy efforts focused on networks and innovation for Union Square Ventures and is also a visiting scholar in the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab.
We Heart WiFi is also sponsored by Canada-based Tucows, which is the parent company of Ting, an MVNO that operates over Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) network
We Heart WiFi took advantage of 14 open TVWS channels in Austin, Texas, that were connected to a single gigabit fiber backbone to provide wireless backhaul for free mobile "heartspots"--really Wi-Fi hotspots--located at top events and parties during SXSW, held March 8-10. The "WiFi" in "We Heart WiFi" is not a reference to traditional Wi-Fi but rather to "Super Wi-Fi," the moniker some have applied to TVWS--the unused spectrum that sits between TV broadcast frequencies.
Offering free Internet access at SXSW was part of an effort to get event attendees as well as non-attendees to sign an online petition asking the FCC to expand the amount of TVWS spectrum available for general use through the planned TV broadcast spectrum incentive auction. The deadline for reply comments on the FCC's notice of proposed rulemaking, which will lay the foundation for the auction framework, is March 12.
The FCC proposes to make both licensed and unlicensed spectrum available for wireless broadband from the frequencies reclaimed from TV broadcasters, which will be encouraged to voluntarily relinquish spectrum usage rights in exchange for a share of the auction proceeds.
The idea of opening unlicensed spectrum at the expense of licensed spectrum is not generally popular with mobile operators and MVNOs. Yet in an entry posted on the Ting blog, Ken Schafer, executive vice president of products for Tucows, wrote that support for the We Heart WiFi effort complements Tucows' belief that the so-called "open Internet" benefits everyone.
"Businesses (including ours) should adapt to changes in technology rather than attempting to maintain the status quo using political pressure and/or market dominance," said Schafer. "Whitespace (sic) allows anyone to innovate around wireless communications. It means that people don't have to go to a carrier or technology company or government bureau if they want to use that spectrum."
Many TVWS spectrum proponents have vilified the nation's two leading mobile operators--AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ)--for allegedly hoarding spectrum licenses and supporting spectrum auctions, which critics charge enable the companies to perpetuate an anticompetitive duopoly by giving them exclusive accces to licensed frequencies. Grossman contends much the same in his blog, The Slow Hunch.
"The bulk of our airwaves are reserved for exclusive use--either by government actors, or by corporations (like AT&T and Verizon) that have purchased the rights from the government. We do this to encourage investment in infrastructure (by granting a monopoly), to avoid interference, and to raise money for the government (through up front fees)," he wrote in a blog entry.
Grossman alleged that auctions of spectrum for exclusive use "sell out our future to bring in some cash now." The We Heart WiFi effort, he indicated, is part of an effort "to make it really clear how massive the opportunity in the open approach is."
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