Christopher Mitchell: We Need Spectrum for Our Communities

You know how you can buy a simple little device for as little as $30 now to set up your own Wi-Fi network that creates an easy in-home network? Imagine if your neighborhood could do that too!

Wi-Fi works in your home because the federal government, which manages how the public airwaves are divided for various uses, decreed that a small slice of spectrum would be unlicensed – sitting there for anyone to use however they wanted. But that spectrum is not suited for a neighborhood-wide network.

Now, as the federal government decides how to allocate new spectrum that is becoming available, it has to make a decision. Should additional spectrum go to the big wireless carriers, should it expand the potential of unlicensed networks, or should there be a mix?

We think the highest priority should be setting aside spectrum that can be used to create low-cost tools that allow our communities to build their own networks. We do not need a more powerful AT&T or Verizon. Our ability to build networks has been limited by policies that restrict local authority to invest in networks and the monopoly power of incumbent operators. We have been hamstrung by federal policymakers that believe Internet access is best expanded by giving all the resources to a few massive companies controlled by Wall Street.

Let us use some of our spectrum and we can start to solve the digital divide that has only grown worse as the cable companies have grown more powerful.

We can solve many more problems with fewer resources by recognizing the benefits of local solutions. Stop denying us the tools to solve our problems and we’ll have fewer of them.

AT&T and Verizon want us to believe that only they have the sophistication to expand mobile access to the Internet. And yet most of us send far more traffic over our own Wi-Fi networks, at far lower cost, than we do over their cellular networks.

So to the Federal Communications Commission, I say, let’s recognize what works and expand on that.

Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He manages MuniNetworks.org and tweets -@communitynets

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Center for Media Justice

Launched in 2008, the Center for Media Justice is building a national movement for media rights, access, and representation powered by the grassroots leadership and cultural strategies of communities of color, low-income families, and social justice organizations.