Despite all the hand-wringing statements about net neutrality that Silicon Valley companies were shooting out Thursday, tech actually had a pretty good day in D.C.
While FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's fast-lane/slow-lane net neutrality proposal was taking a beating on all sides (even Wheeler took a few whacks at it), Internet companies sneaked through a huge victory when the agency agreed to set aside up to three channels of TV airwaves for unlicensed use.
That doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's something that Google, Microsoft and other tech companies have spent years advocating. In the past, Republican lawmakers have mostly shut down those efforts, saying that billion-dollar tech companies don't need a freebie.
Most airwaves can only be used by companies or parties that hold exclusive licenses; unlicensed airwaves can be used by anyone. Wi-Fi networks run on unlicensed airwaves, and tech companies have been trying for years to get more set aside for more powerful Wi-Fi networks.
Internet companies recently got a huge chunk of airwaves set aside for unlicensed use. But they also coveted a channel or two of TV airwaves, which are among the most valuable since signals on those frequencies can go through buildings and travel relatively long distances.
With its move Thursday, the FCC basically created a half-mile public beach in the middle of multimillion-dollar mansions. An auction of the TV airwaves next year is expected to bring in more than $20 billion from wireless companies.
WifiForward, a lobbying group backed by Google, Microsoft and Comcast, called the action a "substantial achievement."
Wheeler hadn't initially set aside many airwaves for unlicensed use, but agreed to provide at least one full national channel while bargaining with other FCC commissioners, particularly Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, who has been an unlicensed-airwave advocate.