WVU’s Super Wi-Fi and the Wireless Future Project

Sara Grossman’s article about super wi-fi at West Virginia University is one of the more hopeful things I’ve read online in a while. The idea of WVU and the Wireless Future Project  (led by Michael Calabrese) teaming up to provide free wireless throughout Morgantown, WV is awesome and long overdue. What’s happening is that WVU is utilizing the unused TV channel frequencies—which I imagine are in greater supply after the recent retirement of analog TV signals—to provide a wider network of free wireless to the WVU community. The Wireless Future Project points out this is a resource municipalities around the country could be using to provide ubiquitous, low-cost (ideally free!) wireless for their residents. What’s more, it has gotten the nickname “super wi-fi” because it is more powerful and can cover larger areas.

Julius Genachowski, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, described the notion of providing Internet service through television channels as “super wi-fi” because such connectivity can be broadcast for great distances and can penetrate large obstacles that standard wi-fi hotspots struggle to overcome.

The Wireless Future Project’s about page is like a manifesto of awesome. Here are a few choice selections:

…the Wireless Future Project’s central goals are to reverse this ongoing privatization of the public airwaves and to expand citizen access to an unlicensed spectrum “commons,” thereby facilitating public access to the airwaves, nonprofit community and municipal wireless networks and ubiquitous wireless Internet access. The project seeks to not only maintain democratic control over the airwaves — as a public resource — but also ultimately make wireless communication over the radio frequency spectrum as free as communications over the acoustic spectrum (speech) and the visible light spectrum (sight and color). While spectrum licensing persists, we advocate that commercial users pay fees for exclusive licenses, with the revenue earmarked to finance unfulfilled public interest obligations.

Groovy, right? Reminds me of Brian Lamb’s green spaces for the web analogy. We need more publicly controlled, internet green spaces! They even get into open architecture, one of my favorite topics:

The Internet’s success and importance to society is predicated on its open architecture. This openness was maintained as the Internet evolved from a network of academics to its current widespread use, allowing consumers to access any legal content, service, or application, developers to innovate without permission, and users to transmit any information desired without interference from an Internet Service Provider (ISP). However in recent years, a number of ISPs have begun to interfere with certain content and applications and increasingly argue for the ability to further shape or manage traffic on their networks.

What? An organization besides the EFF calling out corporate ISPs on packet shaping? I love it! I know this all could be a mirage, and as a result of this article I am beginning to learn more about Sascha Meinrath of the Open Technology Institute (OTI) which is the technology arm of the New America Foundation. I guess if one wanted to get involved with policy championing the open web the OTI might be a good place to start. That said, Google’s Eric Schmidt is chairman of the New America Foundation’s board of directors, so it would be hard to imagine there isn’t serious corporate money and lobbying defining much of this work, but isn’t that the way of the world? 😐 Nonetheless, seems to me WVU and the Wireless Future Project are on to something here, and if we can start busting out mesh networks sometime soon we might actually have an open web again one day!


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