All you need to know about “Super Wi-Fi” in one tweet

by on February 4, 2013 · 16 comments

The D.C. tech world is abuzz today over a front page story in *The Washington Post* by Cecilia Kang announcing an exciting new plan from the FCC “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.”

“Designed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski,” Kang explains “the plan would be a global first.” And that’s not all: “If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.” Wow. Nationwide internet access for all and at no charge?!

Aggregators have run with this amazing news, re-reporting Kang’s amazing scoop. Here’s Mashable:

>The proposal, first reported by The Washington Post, would require local television stations and broadcasters to sell wireless spectrum to the government. The government would then use that spectrum to build public Wi-Fi networks.

And here’s Business Insider:

>The Federal Communications Commission wants to create so-called “super WiFi” networks all over the United States, sending the $178 billion telecom industry scrambling, The Washington Post‘s Cecilia Kang reports. … Under the proposal, the FCC would provide free, baseline WiFi access in “just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas” using the same air wave frequencies that empower AM radio and the broadcast television spectrum.

Free Wi-Fi networks, folks! Wow, what an amazing new plan. But, wait a minute. Who is going to pay for these free nationwide networks? They’ve got to be built after all. Hmmm. It doesn’t seem like the article really explains that part. The cool thing about living in the future, though, is that you can just ask for clarification. So, DSLReport’s Karl Bode asked Kang:

Oh. You mean there’s no new plan? It’s the same incentive auction NPRM we’ve been talking about for months? And the only thing that’s new are (largely predictable) public comments filed last week? Well that’s a bummer. Not to worry, though, I’m sure the WaPo and Mashable and Business Insider and all the rest will be quick to clarify all of the confusion.

**UPDATE:** Parsing Kang’s story a little bit more since posting this, I’ve become even more confused. In her tweet she says she’s talking about the white spaces in the incentive auction NPRM, but those couldn’t possibly be used for a nationwide wireless network since they’d be low-power Part 15 type bands. Also, unlicensed in the 600 MHz guard bands are not Chairman Genachowski’s design, they were allowed by Congress when they gave the FCC auction authority. So what is Kang referring to? Most likely it is the Chairman’s initiative, announced at CES earlier this month, to clear 195 MHZ in the 5 GHz band to improve Wi-Fi. Now if that’s what Kang is talking about, then how does that square with this description of the spectrum in her piece:

>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.

That kind of description is usually reserved for low frequency bands like the 600 MHz bands in the incentive auction (which is what Kang said she’d referring to). Bottom line, I think Kang conflated two separate proceedings into one big non-story that made it past the *Washington Post*’s editors all the way to the top left corner of the front page. I hope there is a correction tomorrow.

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