I know that Google’s push to get new wireless spectrum in the U.S. — what the company is calling “TV white spaces” — opened up for unlicensed access has a self-serving aspect to it, in the sense that Google wants to use it to develop “WiFi 2.0” and get more people using its services. And yet, I can’t help but cheer them on, even though I don’t live in the U.S. and won’t get any conceivable benefit from the proposal. Why? Because I think that Internet access in general is a public good, and should be as widely available as possible, and yet in most cases we wind up — in both Canada and the U.S. — being forced to use quasi-monopolistic telecom and cable companies. Any new source of competition in that department is double-plus good in my books.
I also like the style of Google’s lobbying effort. They may be spending millions on back-room lobbying of the Federal Communications Commission members for all I know (who are scheduled to rule on whether the spectrum becomes free for unlicensed use or not), but they are also putting up videos featuring actual human beings talking about the benefits of widespread Internet access, including some non-profit agencies. The company has a relatively unbiased explainer video featuring Google product manager Minnie Ingersoll, who describes the process by which the spectrum became available in simple terms, complete with ums and ahs, just like a real person. It’s a lot better than the slick videos the broadcasters would probably come up with.
And speaking of the broadcasters, an interesting historical footnote: As part of a feature story I did awhile back on the development of the HDTV standard, in which I interviewed former FCC chairman Richard Wiley — who chaired the committee that came up with the eventual standard in 1993 — I discovered that one of the criteria the broadcast industry had in mind when it came to HDTV was that it use up as much spectrum as possible. Why? So that they wouldn’t have to relinquish as much spectrum once digital took over and analog went away (which is where the “television white spaces” spectrum is coming from). That’s the TV industry for you — always thinking of the customer.