February 9, 2013

JOURNALISM: Wi-Fi “as free as air”—the totally false story that refuses to die.

The frenzy began Monday morning when the Washington Post reported that “the federal government wants to create super Wi-Fi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.” Best of all, network access would be free. “If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas,” the Post reported. The clear implication: this was a bold—and entirely brand-new—plan.

Unfortunately, the piece was basically nonsense. What had really happened was in fact unbelievably boring: the Post simply observed an incremental development in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) at the Federal Communications Commission over the issue of incentive auctions that might free up some additional unlicensed spectrum for so-called “White Space Devices” (read our explainer) operating in and around the current over-the-air TV bands. (I told you it was boring; in addition, the basic debate over White Space Devices was actually settled in 2008.)

From this thin material, which basically consisted of Internet service providers and tech companies sniping at each other in long legal documents, with no decisions being made by anyone and no new proposals of anything, the Post then reported—on the front page, above the fold of the country’s eighth-most highly circulated newspaper—that the FCC plan could lead to free Internet for most US residents.

So much for all those layers of editors and fact-checkers.

UPDATE: Reader Drew Kelley writes: “Another demonstration that the media-class is basically composed of moochers, who want everything on somebody else’s dime.”