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WiFi Marches On: From the First Amendment to Iraq

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First, Cory Doctorow presented comments to the FCC (on behalf of the EFF) asking it to allocate unused TV frequencies to unlicensed use under the same terms as the 2.4GHz spectrum in which WiFi runs:

    The First Amendment calls on government to eschew regulation of who may speak and how they may speak. Historically, the FCC and FRC’s regulatory efforts have balanced the restriction of access to spectrum–which is a proxy for speech, since it is an effective medium of expressive communication–with the need to preserve orderliness in the airwaves so that harmful interference is minimized. The paradigm for this governance held that if anyone were allowed to speak in any way, the resulting chaos of harmful interference would result in a world where no one was heard.
    The 2.4GHz experiment, which applied an entirely different paradigm–lightly regulating device characteristics, requiring devices to accept all interference, and allowing anyone to operate a compliant device–challenged technologists to create devices that could function in this very different spectrum environment, coping with contention and interference with technology rather than regulation.

    The results have been stellar. The 2.4GHz band has spawned unprecedented innovation in devices and protocols, packing 802.11b, 802.11g, Bluetooth, baby-monitors, X10 cameras, and a host of other communications technologies into a narrow slice of spectrum that was once dismissed as a “junk band.”

    While this spectrum paradigm is unquestionably disorderly and untidy, it is clear at this point that technologists are more than up to the challenge of overcoming this disorderliness and building devices that thrive in chaos.

    What’s more, these devices are permitting more communication–more speech–from a greater variety of speakers, than the traditional command-and-control exclusive-use allocations have ever fostered.

    The Commission has regulated speech because spectrum is considered to be a scarce resource, but the hothouse flowering of the 2.4GHz band had demonstrated that some of that scarcity was an artifact of regulation, not physics.

I’m not certain that the First Amendment requires the government to provide the facilities for maximum volume of speech, as opposed to simply not restricting protected speech, but it’s a clever angle. Rap on brother.

And then there is the technological tabula rasa that is the newly liberated Iraq, all blowed up and in essence starting from scratch:

    “By using Wi-Fi,” USA Today reported this week, “parts of Iraq could skip the build-out of traditional phone and cable networks altogether. The situation is similar to how cell phone technology enabled huge swaths of the Third World to avoid regular land-line phone systems. Wi-Fi equipment makers such as Cisco Systems, Proxim and Nomadix are talking to government agencies and non-profits about possibilities for Wi-Fi in Iraq.”

    The industry site, broadbandreports.com, has a slew of active message postings about the USA Today piece and the prospect of Wi-Fi in Iraq, including a fair share of skeptics. One message poster wrote: “First, this wireless thing is not for the Iraqi people in general. Most Iraqis can’t afford or have no use for this tech, period. This Tech is for the American companies that are ‘rebuilding-conquering’ the Iraqi economy (mainly oil, and yall know it).” Another person wrote: “Till those pesky UN sanctions are lifted most companies cannot do any business with Iraq. Kind of hard to build out a wireless network without equipment or cash to pay for it.” [Washngton Post]

The USA Today story lists these remote spots that have benefitted from WiFi:

    Bhutan. Wi-Fi connects two villages, one high in the mountains, one in the flatlands. Bhutan’s phone company sponsored the system to bring inexpensive phone service to the villages. It enables Internet service, too. “We were checking our e-mail from little shacks way out in the boonies with no power,” says Clif Cox, a Eugene, Ore., Wi-Fi enthusiast who worked on the project.

    Mount Everest. Yaks carried Wi-Fi gear to the Mount Everest base camp at 17,000 feet, where a cybercafe opened this month. Climbers and support teams use it for e-mail and phone calls.

    Indonesia. Several companies are installing Wi-Fi kiosks in villages on remote islands. India and Ireland, too, are testing Wi-Fi for rural areas.

    Native American reservations. Eighteen reservations in California’s San Diego County use Wi-Fi and related technologies to bring fast Internet access to schools and police stations. The programs are sponsored by the University of California at San Diego and Hewlett-Packard.

Lots more on WiFi here, here, here, here, and here just to start. If you want more just pop WiFi in the search box.

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About Eric Olsen