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Free Public Wi-Fi in Redmond? FCC Proposal Could Pit Microsoft Against Cell Carriers

The federal government wants to bring fast, powerful—and free—Internet connections to communities across the nation.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a plan that would create super Wi-Fi networks all around the country—and threaten the viability of big-name cell-phone carriers and Internet providers.

But not all tech companies are against the FCC's plan. Google and Redmond-based Microsoft are spending top dollars to lobby in support of the plan, according to a report in The Washington Post, because they believe free Wi-Fi would help drive further innovation and provide a market for more gadgets.

Cellular carriers like Bellevue-based T-Mobile are not as supportive. The Post reports that the FCC wants to buy airwaves that are more powerful than a typical household Wi-Fi connection, making it possible that people could opt out of traditional cell phone coverage.

The city of Redmond currently offers free Wi-Fi service at city facilities including the Old Redmond School House Community Center and the Senior Center, and although the city explored the idea of providing widely available wireless Internet access, it was determined that it wasn’t the highest priority for the city at that time, according to the city's Finance Director, Michael Bailey. He further told Patch:

Community based Internet access has been implemented by local governments across the country with a mix of success (and quite honestly most of it bad). The City of Tacoma implemented its “Link” service some time ago, but it is a companion product to its electric utility (Redmond does not provide electricity as a service). I know that Tacoma had a similar problem that many local governments have run into – and that is resistance from the telecommunications industry for incursions into their markets.  This has resulted in lawsuits, complicated partnerships and other challenges.  As a result of these types of issues, many high profile projects have been started and then abandoned.  We would want to consider such a large-scale endeavor very carefully. 

Even if it's approved by the FCC, The Post says the new network would still take several years to implement. And it's unclear how reliable the connection would be in urban areas, where many people might be using the free Wi-Fi system at the same time.

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Do you think government-provided Wi-Fi would be good for Redmond? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments section.

GeneL February 07, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Public (government) Wi-Fi would provide competition to the for-profit providers (Comcast, Frontier, etc.) which may produce either pricing stability or perhaps a decrease in pricing. I suspect the public Wi-Fi would be somewhat inferior to broadband/fios, consequently, high-use customers may choose to stick with a "paid" service. Internet access is becoming less and less of a luxury and more a necessity as we move forward with advances in technology. People who do not have the money to pay for internet access are being left behind. This includes the kids in families who cannot afford access. Consequently, the kids are behind the curve in their studies which will impact their future employment opportunities. We have "free" over-the-air TV. The concept of free Wi-Fi is not all that different. Fine with me if paid advertizing helped finance the project.

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