Internet providers understand that unrestricted Wi-Fi access would prompt an avalanche of innovation and new devices that would benefit consumers, especially the poor and those in rural areas. Cloud computing could expand exponentially because wireless reliability and performance must be the linchpin of any cloud service.
|Flickr phot by °Florian|
The Wireless LobbyOn the other hand, the $178 billion wireless industry is ferociously and frantically lobbying to toss the idea. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, Cisco and others claim that unused white-space spectrum would be more functional if it were licensed rather than made available to the public without any regulation. Others argue that no universal Wi-Fi network exists yet and there is no guarantee that such a network would be functional, particularly in densely populated areas.
Free Market ApproachThe FCC mandate would create Wi-Fi zones so vast and far-reaching that they could essentially allow a self-driving car to "talk" to another vehicle a mile away, or connect a hospital with a patient's heart monitor a dozen or more miles away. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says making unlicensed spectrum available is a "vibrantly free-market approach" that would allow innovators to develop new technologies for the direct benefit of consumers.
But no specific proposal for universal Wi-Fi is advancing because of the noisy debate between technology giants like Google and Microsoft — who support open access — and wireless carriers that are committed to protecting their turf. The battle is already playing out in communities in Texas and Georgia, notes InternetProviders.com.
Consequently, because the white-space spectrum will not be opened to the public anytime in the near future, consumers will remain chained to their wireless carriers. People of limited means will continue to live on the margins of the digital world, with no or with limited access to wireless service. For those who use the Internet casually, there will be no opportunity to find a free path online. The wireless industry's ongoing iron grip on Wi-Fi availability is a major loss for individual wireless customers.
Business Community SplitThe implications for businesses are murkier, depending on which side of the debate a particular industry is on. Businesses that support and partner with the wireless industry, would, of course, benefit from the lack of universal Wi-Fi implementation.
But businesses that rely on partnerships or alliances with Internet providers, like health care companies, scientific and research enterprises, software developers and hardware providers, could have a huge impact on society through universal Wi-Fi. British wireless expert Richard Thankl points out that the "Internet of things" has the potential to generate up to $870 billion in economic value in the year 2020.