Free Internet—Too Good to Be True

At the beginning of January, it was announced that Google was providing the entire New York City neighborhood of Chelsea with free wireless Internet. With their New York Office located in the same area, over 8,000 people now have access to free Internet.

The concept isn’t new, and especially in NYC. In the summer of 2011, the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO was gifted its improvement district, with financing from a building management company, with free Internet for all who inhabit it as well as their visitors. As imagined, the technology was well received, and to date has run into minimal problems.

Rumors of NYC being completely connected have swirled around for a while, with Mayor Bloomberg advocating for NYC to be the new technology capital of the country. When news broke that the Federal Communications Commission was considering supplying free Internet across the country, though a bit far fetched, it still seemed like a possibility. After all, time and again thought leaders and organizations all the way up to the United Nations have deemed the Internet a basic human right. Making it fully accessible to everyone at any time seemed like a logical next step.

But as with many projections at that scale, it was too good to be true. Due to poor reporting by the Washington Post and poorer interpretation and research done by web journalists who pushed it to their own readers, too good to be true turned out to be just that. The Post was actually covering a part of the White Spaces proposal that has been in circuit since 2008, which speaks to the unused bands of spectrum each television channel controls. The frequencies can transmit further than WiFi, and talks have been made about doing something with these bands, but certainly not now. To say the least, it’s an embarrassing error for the Washington Post.

But what if free Internet could be provided? What would be the implications? The most obvious would be the massive hit to Internet Service Providers, who would lose a massive chunk of revenue. Or would they partner up to offer the service, and if so, who would pay them? What if a company like Google, which already has established an area of free WiFi, extends their networks? Would the user mind communications loaded down by ads, or connecting through a specific account—in this case Gmail for Google?

In any case, for the country to reach the height of technological advancement it so desperately wants, unlimited Wi-Fi reached from anywhere is something that may have to become a reality. Even with a unanimous go-ahead among concerned parties, a few years would have to be invested into network and set-up, so it surely wouldn’t be an instantaneous flip of the switch.

There’s certainly a lot of pull and tug on the issue and an endless list of things the endeavor would affect. One thing can be counted on, though: should a free countrywide network is set up, it will definitely not be a decision that seemingly came out of nowhere.

Author: Zack Smith

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