Submissions/The Ethical Imagination in Memory of TV (Retrofitting Frequencies for High Speed Connectivity for the Under Resourced)

From Wikimania 2014 • London, United Kingdom

After careful consideration, the Programme Committee has decided not to accept the below submission at this time. Thank you to the author(s) for participating in the Wikimania 2014 programme submission, we hope to still see you at Wikimania this August.

Submission no. 6039
Title of the submission

The Ethical Imagination in Memory of TV (Retrofitting Frequencies for High Speed Connectivity for the Under Resourced)

Type of submission (discussion, hot seat, panel, presentation, tutorial, workshop)


Author of the submission

Mary Ellen Carroll

E-mail address



Country of origin


Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

The “Ethical Imagination” in Memory of TV (Why we need the FCC to keep unused television spectrum unlicensed.)

If you are above a certain age you may recall UHF or VHF television channels. When you would flip around looking for Walter Cronkite or Soul Train, encountering screens filled with static--it was a “dead channel,” or off the air. If you are below a certain age you will have to imagine it, or Google it. That is, if you have access to the Internet.

Today, those old UHF/VHF frequencies of unused television spectrum, fallen into disuse are known as Super WiFi--so dubbed, in fact, by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Those airwaves are an invaluable national resource and can create affordable, long-distance, high-speed wireless networks, allowing many people currently deprived of Internet access to get online. But, it may not be the case if the FCC auctions off licenses to the highest bidder. In 2015 it will combine a reverse auction, allowing broadcasters to sell back their spectrum rights to the U.S. with a forward auction to sell licenses. But, a strong case can be made for leaving spectrum unlicensed. In anticipation of the FCC’s auction, economists Milgrom, Levin and Eilat, wrote the commissioned paper, “The Case for Unlicensed Spectrum,” arguing persuasively and objectively for unlicensed spectrum.*

It is important to look at the experience we’ve had economically and culturally with WiFi and contrast it with Super WiFi. Taking root in what was referred to as the “garbage frequency,” WiFi has the same frequency range as baby monitors and garage-door openers. In 1985, the FCC expanded its unlicensed frequency, eliminating antiquated regulations to create a free market. Devices had only to adhere to interference limits, meaning your toy remote control helicopter would efficiently share the same frequency as your garage door opener. The policy was expanded for creative innovation to see what could happen, not to bring specific products to market. And happen it did. WiFi is interwoven into our lives and we continue to see its significant social and economic impact. Super WiFi can be even more beneficial and requires the FCC to use what the Kenyan author Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor calls the “ethical imagination,” to consider the most effective use of this resource for everyone, not just for some.

The Internet is as essential today as electricity and running water. Making use of spectrum is just as easy as other household utilities. The old UHF and VHF frequencies are lower than conventional WiFi, which means Super WiFi can go through obstacles like walls/trees, travel greater distances and at higher speeds. Unlicensed television spectrum like our national seashore should be accessible to everyone. Auctioning it corporations is selling it for real estate development or akin to selling the naming rights-- but worse, because, once sold, those frequencies’ use will be limited by whoever owns the license.

Areas in the U.S. lacking connectivity may be underserved for two reasons. They may be geographically/topographically remote: West Texas ranches or Central Kentucky’s Lake Cumberland. Or, part of a dense urban area where the physical and social/economic conditions are deemed difficult by service providers to develop the necessary technological infrastructure--- South Central LA or the 7th Ward of New Orleans. As with all kinds of resources, from housing and business loans to supermarkets (“food deserts”), deciding what “difficult” means has the potential to deprive rural residents/businesses, low-income consumers access to the Internet. We all need connectivity for jobs, education, health care, safety, creativity and possibility.

When there is uncertainty about future policy, industry will wait to see what happens. Surprisingly, actual trial uses of the unused television spectrum have been limited and attributed to a lack of industry support and the necessary commoditization for devices and chip development. We know what can happen as evidenced by WiFi. We also know Super WiFi’s efficacy from the world’s first residential deployment for a 51-year-old grandmother in Houston’s East End. But, an effective, large scale, high profile trial with Super WiFi intentionally architecting urban to rural networks with applications for residential, commercial, industrial and scientific use has yet to take place.

Retrofitting the frequency of television for the 21st century contributes to an evolving society that could be characterized as the ultimate free market playground. The “ethical imagination,” engages creative real-world solutions that have consequence. If the Internet is a national resource, why should anyone in America be prohibited from having access. The policies set by the FCC are frequently the boilerplate for other countries. By keeping national spectrum unlicensed the FCC establishes the model by which the potential for these frequency bands can be ethically realized and replicated in other underserved locations in the world. It becomes an “enabling resource” rather than a limiting one, providing access to connectivity for all.

Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
30 minutes

30 munutes

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  1. MECarroll-NYC (talk) 21:33, 31 March 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  2. USer:MECarroll-NYC Are you in NYC? Why not come to a meetup as posted at en:WP:Meetup/NYC? Blue Rasberry (talk) 23:01, 7 April 2014 (UTC)[reply]
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