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FCC plan for ‘free,’ nationwide Wi-Fi is not so free

Recently the Federal Communications Commission rolled out a plan to create a “free” nationwide wireless Internet network.

The Wi-Fi network would offer broadband quality Internet for free in virtually every major metropolitan area and many rural neighborhoods. Many technical issues are raised. Local television stations would be forced to sell parts of the spectrum that they own in an eminent domain-style takeover. The new networks could also interfere with television and cell phone signals.

Unfortunately for proponents of this “free” Internet, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” as Milton Friedman often said. Nationwide wireless networks do not magically pop up out of thin air. They require vast man-hours and resources to plan and develop.

Who would pay for a nationwide Wi-Fi network being put together by the FCC? If you guessed “taxpayers,” you’d be correct. Actually, the government would probably just borrow money instead of raising taxes, because it’s not like our national debt is much of a problem anyways.

More concerning than who would foot the bill for this project is what it would do to innovation in the telecommunications sector. With the federal government providing a basic level of broadband that is “good enough” for many consumer for free, what incentive would there be for service providers to invest in networks that are faster and cheaper? With a large segment of the market disinterested in private sector offerings, superfast broadband would have a much smaller pool of potential consumers and would thus reduce the incentives for such investments.

Furthermore, it is ludicrous that liberals will decry the federal government for spying on citizens one day, and then turn around and applaud it for building a nationwide network of Wi-Fi hotspots. What could possibly make it easier for the federal government to engage in warrantless surveillance of electronic communication than by running the very network through which those communications pass?

A nationwide super Wi-Fi network sounds great, but when you deal with the realities of who would pay for it, and what it would do to innovation and security on the Internet, it comes across as a bad deal for America. Internet service certainly is something that the market can provide with limited government intervention. Policies should focus on increasing competition rather than having the government provide the service.