septiembre 02, 2004

Free internet access?

The Washington Post reports that Philadelphia is considering offering free wireless internet access across the entire city:
Forget finding an Internet cafe. For less than what it costs to build a small library, city officials believe they can turn all 135 square miles of Philadelphia into the world's largest wireless Internet hot spot.

The ambitious plan under discussion would involve placing thousands of small transmitters around the city, probably atop lampposts. Each of these wireless hot spots would be capable of communicating with the WiFi network cards that come standard with many computers.

Once complete, the $10 million network would deliver broadband Internet almost anywhere radio waves can travel, including neighborhoods where high-speed Internet access is now rare.

The city would likely offer the service either for free or at costs far lower than the $35 to $60 a month charged for broadband delivered over telephone and cable TV lines, said the city's chief information officer, Dianah Neff.

"If you're out on your front porch with a laptop, you could dial in, register at no charge, and be able to access a high-speed connection," Neff said.

But free, citywide Internet access would appear to pose a competitive threat to businesses such as phone carrier Verizon Communications Inc. and cable provider Comcast Corp. Both companies have invested heavily in upgrading their networks to provide high-speed Internet connections for a monthly fee.
Interesting proposal. It reminds me of the time that Newt Gingrich suggested rethinking everything, and his example was giving the homeless a laptop.

Perhaps it really is as easy as the article seems to suggest, but I have my doubts. It seems to me that the City of Philadelphia will find it much harder to manage this program, as government generally isn't the lowest cost provider of services. After all, it's a city, and that means the program will quickly be subject to patronage.

So I guess color me skeptical, though if the city manages to offer the service cheaply and efficiently in the long term, I imagine it would set a trend.