4 minute read

DC seeks city-wide wifi, and actually focuses on free access for the poor.

DC is looking for proposals to set up wireless internet across large chunks of the city, and it makes free access for 100,000 poor the main focus. DC is being clever, and avoiding "using" tax dollars to fund this. The city expects the company to make money off of the deal by charging in higher-income areas so as to provide free access in the lowest-income areas (Jason and I might be lucky recipients of free wifi!) In return for the risk involved, the company gets an 8 year monopoly on muni-wifi (how does one define that?) and exclusive access to tack antennas to existing telephone/signal poles and gov't-owned buildings.

From a technical standpoint, there's a lot of work and risk involved for kinda unexciting benefits. The company would already have to compete with the cell providers who offer Internet service to computers, who might be encouraged to do some not-nice business practices (being oligopolies with strong (2-year contractual) lock-in (tho less, with number portability, whee).

How this would effect travelling users (say, I get it free at home, would I have to pay $X.xx/month to use it outside of my home area (e.g. downtown?). Also, the article seems to indicate that there'd be some market that would not benefit, probably among the middle class neighborhoods, where the service demand would be so piddly (why bother to pay an additional monthly fee if you're already getting higher speeds through DSL or cable, unless you want to drop your DSL/Cable... also, can this connection be shared, or is it per-person? A house of 5 using DSL for 15+basic phone/month better off than 5x$20/month?)

In my more paranoid moments, I wonder what could happen in the US if the dial-up/DSL/Cable "Internet" became untenably wiretapped, filtered, etc. There are some interesting home-bake mesh network ideas; Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN) has a nice downloadable ISO that you can burn to a CD, reboot into, and set up a wireless mesh node that will supposedly self-configure, and CommunityWireless.org has some promising links. Appropriately, WirelessAnarchy seems to have the best combination of local links and general tech links.

In the rush to connect people to the Internet, we forget that any computer network benefits from network effects. Even the links above aim at connecting a massive area to the Net using a few shared gateways, but is the bigger win not in a large, local "intranet"? People on the net could provide various services, (media/pr0n sharing being the most likely), but also blog/forum sites, IM/IRC/chat services, games, etc. -- simple p2p communication for a community could be an important first step in moving them to being able to take full advantage of the Internet; after all, that's kinda how we all started out, with BBSes, local service oriented dial-ins like compuserv/prodigy/etc....