The FCC has announced that they had finished a series of tests of a swatch of radio band that they're setting aside for a nation-wide, cost-free wireless internet service. Those tests concluded that that spectrum will not interfere with current mobile carriers signals (though ATT, T-Mobile, and all the rest are bitching already), which means that all systems are pretty much go for implementing this thing. (Super geeky explanation here.)
The idea behind it is that the government can use existing spectrum (spectrum opened up with the switchover to digital TV next year) to reach areas underserved by current internet carriers: rural America and underprivileged communities. In order to reach those places, the theory goes, you may as well open it up everywhere. And how.
If this plan goes through, and it doesn't get corrupted in the process (which, unfortunately, it probably will because that's how these things work), it means that in a couple years we will see an immediate and massive shift towards a ubiquitous hand-held, mobile internet. While that's the way things are moving anyway (the iPhone, Google's Android, and other bleeding-edge mobile devices are proving that), this will speed the adoption at a rate far faster than hundred-dollar service plans allow now.
Which means for publishers, the time is now to begin planning your mobile strategy in a way that is meaningful and useful. Because this will change everything. Again.
But--and there's always a but, isn't there--there"s a problem:
Notably, both proposals stipulate that any free wireless offerings have mandatory content filters, preventing users from viewing any material that "would be harmful to teens and adolescents."
Yep, we're right back to the Communications Decency Act of 96 again, as demonstrated by using "contemporary community standards" in order to define obscenity. It's a slippery slope that starts with pornographers and ends with medical information, novels, and all the other things that we, as a society, hold dear. It creates, once again, a tiered system of speech: one for the real world and one for the mobile web.
They give and they take away. A free national wireless internet is a goal that will help to transform our culture in ways that we can only begin to imagine. But at what price? Culture itself?
Cross-posted at MEGO, My Eyes Glaze Over: thoughts on the future of journalism