America: Land of the free...Internet?

A free Wi-Fi hotspot beams broadband internet from atop a public phone booth on July 11, 2012 in Manhattan, New York City.

America: Land of the free...Internet? Some American cities tried this and ran up against a buzz saw of opposition from companies that sell Internet service. Now the federal government could push for fast connections to the Internet for, and here's the keyword: free.

According to the Washington Post, the FCC envisions a Wi-Fi system that isn't spotty but widespread and powerful. This would help get poorer people connected to what are increasingly essential online services. And free Wi-Fi could be a catalyst for something we're exploring this week, connecting the Internet to objects not just webpages

"This concept is basically the backbone, it is sort of the only thing that could truly enable this Internet of things," says Molly Wood, executive editor at CNET and host of "Always On". "The only way we get towards a truly connected society is through ubiquitous highspeed wireless access, but then you all of the sudden have the ability for people to develop devices, for them to develop standards for software that can work across these devices. The barrier to entry is not very high. They can test things for free, they can distribute them freely. It's sort of like if you look at the way the existence of the Internet spurred innovation that changed our culture forever, I have to believe that this is almost equally as big an idea."

The FCC would not comment directly on the free wireless story, but did tell us there's a plan to auction off radio frequencies that could be used by mobile phone companies and for other uses including Wi-Fi. Some critics believe the FCC gets too involved in matters like this.

"They are involved in a lot of activities. They have a lot of discretion, a lot of power, and this causes firms in D.C. to spend tons and tons of lobbying them to get them to get individual goodies," says Hal Singer, who is co-author of a new book about the future of telecom policy, The Need for Speed. "I think the solution is very simple, is just to get them out of this business."

Singer argues that freeing up markets for broadband is the quickest route to new services in education, tele-medicine and entertainment. He refutes the growing chorus of experts who worry that a few telecom companies are getting too big for the country's good.

"We should tolerate some degree of market power. After all, we're asking these networks to make these huge investments. We shouldn't immediately jump to the notion of national provision or regulating their prices," says Singer.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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