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FCC Opens Spectrum to Super WiFi, in Time for Corporations to Control It

The FCC officially approved the opening of a vast amount of unused spectrum for broadband Internet, potentially creating a fast “super-WiFi” network.

The change in available airwaves, which were freed up by the conversion of television signals from analog to digital, constitutes the first significant block of spectrum made available for unlicensed use by the F.C.C. in 20 years.

It was a victory that did not come easily, or quickly, however. The F.C.C. first approved a similar measure in 2008, but the technical requirements for unlicensed devices drew objections from 17 companies or groups on both sides of the issue, forcing the commission to redraft its proposal […]

Supporters of the measure hope the airwaves will be used for stronger and faster wireless networks — known as “super Wi-Fi” because of the signals’ ability to pass more easily through obstacles — and for use in providing Internet access to rural areas.

“Today’s order finally sets the stage for the next generation of wireless technologies to emerge and is an important victory for Internet users across the country,” Richard Whitt, telecommunications and media counsel in Google’s Washington office, said in a posting on the company’s public policy blog.

Of course, now that we have the next generation of wireless technologies, Google and the telecoms will do their best to control and monetize them. Not only have they persuaded gullible tea partiers to join the cause, taking advantage of baseless fears about government takeovers of the Internet (strike government and replace with corporate and you’re on to something), but they’re getting help from prominent Democrats as well:

Full consensus may not be the end game of an effort by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.) as he crafts a bill on net neutrality, according to House aides involved in the process.

Waxman may move forward with a bill that does not get full agreement from all sides in the debate but that seems to have enough support to pass the House, three aides said.

As Congressional staffers weigh input from public interest groups and cable, phone, and Internet companies, their consideration has in part turned to whether moving without the approval of certain major stakeholders would sink the bill, the aides said.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who could end the entire discussion by reclassifying broadband as the telecommunications it clearly is, and regulating the Internet under the guidelines he presumes to support, instead said “I admire and I appreciate the effort and I hope it succeeds… I am pleased Chairman Waxman and the other members involved are making a real effort to make progress on these issues.”

While just a week ago, Waxman announced public support for net neutrality, the negotiations he’s administering could lead to a worse “solution” than the Google-Verizon deal.

So it’s great that we are using this white space spectrum to make the architecture of the Internet stronger, but we should be disturbed by these new efforts to turn it into a toll road.

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David Dayen

David Dayen