In a recent post on Andrew Warner's blog he applauds the City of San Fransisco and Google for their plans to build a free municipal wi-fi network.
I also happen to think that municipal wi-fi is a Good Thing, but not for the exact same reasons as Mr. Warner. He explains that "more than an unnecessary luxury – it is a matter of social justice." I agree with this sentiment, but I don't think its the only or the most important reason why municipal wi-fi is good.
Municipal wi-fi networks as L. Lessig has put it more eloquently ought to be thought of more like streetlights and roads which government provides for "free" to citizens. Streetlights and roads are a general public good.
To make the point even more clear, consider what the uses would be of a municipal wi-fi network that was not open to the general public. Such a network could be hugely useful to city workers such as police, firefighters, ambulance drivers, garbage men, meter maids, bus drivers, etc, etc, in coordination of action, remote information access, and status reporting. There are a multitude of uses within government itself just as there are many ways that streetlights and roads are used by geovernment.
Then, also there are the more generally cited benefits: 1) incentives for people to gather/play/work in urban locations because of wi-fi and 2) access to the Internet for those who cannot afford broadband subscriptions themselves.
For more information on municipal wi-fi projects see: http://www.muniwireless.com/
In Cincinnati, we have the LilyPad Project which seems to have made good progress in spreading the idea of urban wi-fi as well as actual hotspots. Here is a map of LilyPad access points from their website:
I have never actually used one of their hotspots so I cannot vouch for their success, but I think they have the right ideas.
Here's hoping wi-fi continues to grow and spread in Cincinnati.
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