Should the United States give away a public asset and allow the creation of free wireless networks all across the nation? It can’t afford not to.

The chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, has designed a plan that would free up some of the nation’s unused broadcast airwaves to cities and towns that want to create large-scale wireless networks, which could be used by people to connect to the Internet at no cost.

The plan would benefit local governments, which could lower the amount schools and municipal offices spend to access information. But the much bigger benefit would go to the public. If the users of computers and mobile devices could connect to the Internet without paying for a data plan, communication would become cheaper and easier than ever. People who have never been able to afford Internet access would have it all the time and businesses would lower their costs.

This sounds like great news for everyone except for the telecommunications companies that are in the business of charging steep prices for wireless connections.

In a lobbying blitz, they are arguing that the country should auction off the frequencies to wireless companies and collect billions in revenues. That’s good, but unleashing a boom of innovation and private investment would be even better, and there is every reason to believe that is what would happen if free public WiFi became available.

Just as the public investment in highways made interstate commerce more lucrative, and broadcasting radio and television into people’s homes created opportunities for a wide range of businesses, opening up the airwaves to free Internet connection would stimulate business.

More transactions would be able to take place. More people would get involved in creating new ways to use the technology.

Large wireless networks would allow applications that are not currently possible, allowing one driverless car to communicate with another or letting a doctor watch a patient’s heart monitor in real time from miles away.

It would also be a great equalizer in a society that is getting more unequal all the time.

People who can’t afford Internet access are at a disadvantage when they are looking for a job or a place to live. As more of our government and politics take place online, those without Internet could also be missing out on some key aspects of citizenship.

That’s worth more than what these frequencies would draw at auction. The FCC should open the door to large-scale free WiFi zones.


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