Over the coming weekend, folks at SXSW will be able to hop on to one of our free “Super Wi-Fi” hotspots. The “super” part is that each of these hotspots is connected to the internet backbone not by cable, but by another high-speed wireless link, operating in the “open” or “unlicensed” frequencies (meaning that anyone who wants to can use them). These link back to a gigabit fiber connection (which is apparently higher bandwidth than the official sxsw WiFi network).
The point we’re trying to make is that awesome things are possible when we open up our airwaves for innovation. “Open spectrum” — or sections of our “wireless real estate” that anyone can build in, is a huge economic driver. The fact that any person or company can build equipment (chips, laptops, phones, washing machines) and networks that run in open frequencies leads directly to massive innovation and broad choice.
I like to think of it as a sky full of lego blocks:
The reason this is interesting is that the bulk of our airwaves are reserved for exclusive use — either by government actors, or by corporations (like AT&T and Verizon) that have purchased the rights from the government. We do this to encourage investment in infrastructure (by granting a monopoly), to avoid interference, and to raise money for the government (through up front fees).
Of all of these reasons the last one is the most troubling — as we are consistently tempted to sell out our future to bring in some cash now.
Part of our job — and I still don’t think we’ve done it well enough yet — is to make it really clear how massive the opportunity in the open approach is. The same way that there are game changing dynamics in open systems like Wikipedia, Firefox and Android. There is still more to be done there, and I’ll do some follow up posts on that.
So for now: if you’re in Austin, please enjoy some Super WiFi on us. If you’re watching from home, please join in with call to support the FCC in opening up more spectrum for innovation.