FCC vote clears the way for lower-cost mobile data

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Don't look now, but you may soon have more options for mobile internet access beyond the usual wireless carriers. The FCC has voted in favor of rules that not only make a wide 100MHz slice of 3.5GHz spectrum available for mobile data, but makes that data more accessible. Rather than simply parcel out the airwaves to the highest bidders (which are usually telecoms), the FCC has a "General Authorized Access" tier that lets any device use these frequencies, similar to WiFi's license-free scheme. The move would still let conventional carriers bolster their networks, but it also paves the way for cheap or free over-the-air broadband. Companies ranging from Google to Verizon are interested, so you should expect an eclectic mix of services once the devices are ready.

The move should also help tackle temporary bandwidth crunches. The vote greenlights auctions for regional, short-term "priority" rights to part of the spectrum -- if a carrier expects its network to bog down for a short while, for example, it could buy some headroom. This doesn't mean that overcongested networks are a thing of the past, but your provider of choice could have a new way to mitigate those slowdowns.

[Image credit: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images]