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Free Public Wi-Fi on Mercer Island? FCC Proposal Could Pit Microsoft Against Cell Carriers

The federal government wants to bring fast, powerful—and free—Internet connections to communities across the nation.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a plan that would create super Wi-Fi networks all around the country—and threaten the viability of big-name cell-phone carriers and Internet providers.

The city of Mercer Island currently offers free Wi-Fi service at the Mercer Island Community & Event Center and City Hall, and City Manager Rich Conrad floated a plan early last year to expand the city's "hot-spots" to encourage a more "vibrant" downtown area in the Town Center. The plans, however, failed to gain traction as officials tried to reduce spending and raise revenue to balance the city's budget.

Not all tech companies are against the idea, though. Google and Redmond-based Microsoft are spending top dollars to lobby in support of the plan, according to a report in The Washington Post, because they believe free Wi-Fi would help drive further innovation and provide a market for more gadgets.

Cellular carriers like Bellevue-based T-Mobile are not as supportive. The Post reports that the FCC wants to buy airwaves that are more powerful than a typical household Wi-Fi connection, making it possible that people could opt out of traditional cell phone coverage.

Even if it's approved by the FCC, The Post says the new network would still take several years to implement. And it's unclear how reliable the connection would be in urban areas, where many people might be using the free Wi-Fi system at the same time.

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Do you think government-provided Wi-Fi would be good for your local community? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments section.

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