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Business - Written by on Friday, September 28, 2007 8:25 - 0 Comments

Denis Hancock
A look at the challenges of free Wi-Fi

Tim Wu of Slate.com posted an interesting article yesterday looking at why municipal Wi-Fi networks have been a flop – with a particular focus on defining the potential roles of public and private players and reigning in some unrealistic explanations. The short article is well worth the read, leading to this concluding paragraph from Tim:

The lesson here is an old one about the function of government. When it comes to communications, the United States relies on a privateer system: We depend on private companies to perform public callings. That works up to a point, but private industry will build only so much. Real public infrastructure costs real public money. We already know that, in the real world, if you’re not willing to invest in infrastructure, you get what we have: crumbling airports, collapsing bridges, and broken levees. Why did we think that the wireless Internet would be any different?

Why indeed. There’s also a link to an interesting article by Paul Boutin from September 2004 (also on Slate) on why high-speed Internet access won’t be free. To quote Paul and his prediction at the time:

The plan is to mount up to 16 Wi-Fi routers per square mile on streetlights in order to provide “some level of free wireless Internet access to everyone living, working or visiting the city.” Boston and Madison, Wis. are also considering citywide Wi-Fi that’s free, or at least cheaper than DSL. You might think this means that wireless will be free everywhere in a few years. You’d be wrong.

He, of course, goes on to say why you’d be wrong (again, worth reading)… and it turns out he just might have been right.

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