There is no free Supercalifragilistic Wi-Fi

editor's corner

The FCC is not planning to create gigantic, free Wi-Fi networks. And by the way, TV white space is not the same as Wi-Fi.

I'm referring to the Washington Post's recent article, which put forth the unfounded notion that the FCC has proposed a free-for-all, nationwide, public Wi-Fi network that is being opposed by the nefarious telecommunications industry.

The article appears to confuse the planned TV broadcast spectrum incentive auctions, which the FCC intends to use to free up both licensed 600 MHz spectrum as well as more unlicensed TV white-space spectrum, with public Wi-Fi hotspots and perhaps also the FCC's plan to unleash up to 195 MHz of unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band for 802.11ac Gigabit Wi-Fi.

Like a Kardashian, the Washington Post article has gotten far too much attention, largely for the wrong reasons. TechDirt Wireless, did a fab job of listing many of the written responses, both supportive and derisive, and trying to figure out what exactly the article was supposed to be addressing. In addition, Broadband Reports' not-so-PC comments in this post gave me a solid LOL moment.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Eisenach, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, posted a blog entry suggesting the Washington Post's puzzling article was driven by "cyber-socialists" who "see broadband as the next battlefield in the progressive war against private ownership."

I hold FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski responsible for this dazed and confused fiasco. After all, he popularized the terms "Super Wi-Fi" or "Wi-Fi on steroids" for TV white-spaces spectrum back in 2010. (I've often wondered why, if he was going for superlatives, Genachowski didn't go all out and call TV white space "Super-duper Wi-Fi." I mean, why only make it "super"?)

That was a great way to create massive confusion for John Q. Public, Mr. Chairman. And now, more than two years after those terms were coined, the confusion they created has created more of the same.

White-space spectrum could be used for a host of unlicensed broadband services, but its availability does not mean people are suddenly going to be able to magically pluck a TV white-space signal out of the air using their Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone or tablet and get free Internet access. Unfortunately, however, that's what the use of tortured terminology has led the public to believe.

Further, the largely civil debates that have gone on in Washington regarding the amount of unlicensed spectrum that should be made available through the TV broadcast spectrum auctions are now being characterized as corporations (telecommunications companies) vs. the people (Internet players), when, in fact, it is corporations vs. corporations lobbying on both sides of the issue. They just have different business plans for using spectrum and raking in cash from you and me.

Ironically, the Washington Post's article came out the same week that Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced an initiative in Kenya using TV white spaces and solar-powered base stations to deliver broadband access. Yet even in Kenya, white-space spectrum will not be used for "free" Internet service.

Rather, Kenya's TV white-space spectrum will be the foundation upon which to deliver "low-cost broadband access to rural and other unserved communities," according to Microsoft. That's "low-cost," as in the spectrum may be free but somebody still has to pay for the backhaul, the network equipment, the customer-premises equipment and the salaries of the people who run the network.

Similarly, the U.S. wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) that are interested in using TV white-space spectrum and other unlicensed spectrum, such as that in the 5 GHz band, to deliver wireless broadband services in rural and remote areas also intend to charge for those services. The bottom line is that "free" Wi-Fi or any other "free" wireless broadband must be subscriber-paid, venue-paid, ad-supported or government-funded with citizens' tax money. One way or another, someone always has to pay the piper.

Maybe someday my Fairy Godmother will grace me with free Supercalifragilistic Wi-Fi that makes all of my wireless broadband dreams come true. But until my glass slippers show up, I'm going to hang onto the fuzzy slippers I wear in the real world.--Tammy

P.S.: Does the "Super Wi-Fi" moniker bother anyone else? Vote in this week's poll on our home page. And if you have a better consumer-friendly catchphrase for TV white space, let us know in the comments below.