Mincipal Wifi’s

From the NYTimes reporting on Philadephia’s attempt at a municipality–wide wireless Internet network:

“City officials envision a seamless mesh of broadband signals that will enable the police to download mug shots as they race to crime scenes in their patrol cars, allow truck drivers to maintain Internet access to inventories as they roam the city, and perhaps most important, let students and low-income residents get on the net.”

Municipal wireless is at the same time a fascinating experiment in technology diffusion, a scary story of surveillance, an interesting battle between the public and private sectors over who should build the infrastructure and finally, an example of overlaying virtual public space over physical public space at 1:1 scale. As much as I love wireless, I’m not certain it’s a good idea to have my nose buried in a laptop instead of occasionally experiencing the world around me (at minimum, I’d likely bump into the lamposts). But then again, is it any different from the continual connection to the virtual afforded by cellphones and Blackberries?

Wi-fi Networking News has a good round up on munipical inititiatives to create wireless communities.

3 Responses to “Mincipal Wifi’s”

  1. pete says:

    I wonder how long it will take before people come to view municiple wifis as a right? Yesterday on CTV there was a piece on an area in the Laurentians north of Montreal that does not have cell phone coverage due to the rough terrain. The locals have cell phones, which they use at work in Montreal, but can’t use at home. Since the area is sparsely populated, it is not worth it for the phone companies to invest in a tower. People are complaining to the media and lobbying the companies for a service they see as necessary, but which barely existed ten years ago. Basically, if you build it, they will expect it to always be there, and eventually for it to be free.

  2. sieber says:

    It’s the “last mile” argument, except that it’s about wifis (or cell phones as in the previous comment). The last mile is about who will pay for the last mile of infrastructure development. It was applied initially to rural electrification and then to rural telephony. It’s easy to pay for urban development–there’s lots of people and lots of existing infrastructure that can be easily extended. That’s why, historically, urban telephone service has been surcharged to subsidize rural telephony. Might the same happen for wifi? Urban wifi subsidizes rural wifi?

  3. Jen says:

    I think, like anything, municipal wireless networks might be imporperly used by some people, i.e. they never experience anything other than their laptop – like bumping into lampposts as pointed out by Prof. Sieber. However, there is something nice about having the choice to take your laptop into your neighbourhood park and do homework under the shade of a nice big maple tree and in fresh (at least somewhat) air, rather than being cooped up inside… of course this idea doesn’t account for Montreal’s winter weather!!