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WiFi -- Why Are We All Still Paying for This?

An argument for a public WiFi infrastructure in every region of the U.S.

This past weekend, I descended upon the mall to use gift certificates I've been hanging on to since Christmas and engage in a past-time I deplore called shopping.  While there, I decided to enhance my Apple repertoire and considered buying an iPhone, therefore switching form T-Mobile to either Verizon or AT&T. 

As I looked upon the different plans offered by these two companies, I realized that we are all over-paying for Internet service.

Besides the regular rate for calls and text messaging, each company requires you to buy data plans that are not unlimited. Meaning you are essentially charged for the Internet service you use, which would then require one to constantly check your plan to see how much time you're using. 

As I checked the different iPhones at AT&T, a sales rep asked me why, if I were so interested in an iPhone, was I not purchasing a plan? My answer to her was very simple: Why should I have to pay for Internet service when I already pay for it?!

Confused? Well consider this. As I type this post in my house, Internet surrounds me. In fact, there are 13 possible WI-FI connections that my iPad or MacBook Pro could be connected to. 

But, there are several problems with this scenario, most of the connections or names available are “locked.” (By the way, have you ever noticed how crazy some of your neighbors’ names are for their WiFi devices?  There should be a day in Boston where people must identify themselves by their WiFi name or receive a $5,000 fine. Imagine someone walking into work with a client or something and saying, “Hi, my name is muscle_man1978.”)

Anytime, this system where we’re all paying high fees for the same basic service is nuts and we as citizens are allowing it to happen.

It is not simply WiFi connections at home or work -- we are over-Wi-Fi’ed everywhere. In many urban areas throughout the U.S., there is more WiFi around than potholes and yet it is the latter that drives many to understandably complain, even though access to this available WiFi is denied. 

But when a new device is unleashed on the market, such as an iPad or iPhone, we are told we must purchase a limited data plan, so we haplessly oblige. Sure, in an immediate sense, we have to submit or we won’t be able to purchase our new habitual toy, but this does not mean we cannot start talking about an unlimited WiFi “grid” throughout the whole U.S. This would reduce cost and give people the freedom to take any device, either an iPad, Droid or whatever else they come up with, and legitimately travel anywhere in the U.S. with the confident knowledge that the internet will be there. 

A massive program like this would be the equivalent of building the superhighway system, which would provide real, actual jobs, while making America a country that is wired from the mountains of Appalachia to the shores of Hawaii.

Sure this will cost money and currently, President Obama has already set this as a goal in his last State of the Union address, but it must be realized. The U.S. has always taken the lead in the world’s recent history and we must continue to lead into the 21st Century. An America that is completely wired, in a public sense, just like the roads and highway system, is an America that will become not just a leader in an emerging global trend, but a necessary system for which most businesses and people are currently relying on.

I know, I know, some may call this socialism or some other clever adjective to halt progress, but I don’t care, because the Internet is one of the last truly “free” frontiers graced upon us as a species. It is quite possibly the last bastion of freedom, unregulated from industry or government that can be controlled by the people and allow business to prosper on levels unimaginable at this current date in history.

The 2002 futuristic movie Minority Report focused on a preventative crime system in the year of 2054.  Essentially the movie focused on a system employed by the Department of Justice that prevented murder based on thoughts people had about killing someone, and then they were arrested upon the moment of slaughter. But what truly intrigued me about this movie was not Tom Cruise being chased by the feds for a murder he was “thought” to be thinking of committing, but the future as displayed in this film. Already, we have witnessed some of the technology in Minority Report come to fruition. 

For example, the police used a devise that is strikingly similar to an iPad. In fact, an iPad is smaller and at the time of this movie’s release, many scientists and technological wizards (including Steve Jobs, who is Apple’s genius boy) openly discussed the remote possibility of having such devices available for mass reproduction. 

Well, only a short few years later, we have them. Also, this movie depicts marketing strategies directly applicable to an individual person based on taste, personality and location. Facebook employs this tactic already, but in Minority Report, it is instant and adaptive to your current mood and behavior because the Internet is everywhere. 

In the future, portable devices will be smaller, cheaper and become a must for the populace as opposed to a symbol of status as it is now. This future can only be reached if the infrastructure is in place to shepherd in this new technology. Without this infrastructure, companies such as Comcast will make you pay a fee everywhere you go just to have access to something that will be a necessity to survive. 

We cannot let this happen. The Internet should remain free for not only individuals, but for visionary entrepreneurs who would be able to unleash their product on widening and diverse populace with the click of a button in real life, physical time. 

Former President Ronald Regan once recycled an old saying for a whole new generation of people. He called America “a shining city on a hill.” Imagine in the future, if young Americans see this city on the hill and climb it, with their tiny, wristwatch like WiFi devices attached to their hand, only to reach the top and see a lock symbol next to a name called “muscle_man.the.3rd2027.” 

Is that progress? Make America a public WiFi nation.

David Evans March 22, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Jack, years ago I was somewhat involved with the Boston wifi initiative and helped write a lot of proposals for city-wide wifi in places like Seattle and Phoenix. Believe me I know how much it takes. You know what? Wifi is not the long-term answer. Something like LTE or Wimax is. Ignoring the religious arguments over various bandwidth protocols, spending a lot of money on wifi infrastructure would not be a very good idea nationwide. The beancounters will support this. Obama has $8 billion for rural broadband, yet cities don't seem to see much of this money and of course its all lobbyists and Comcast running the show behind the scenes. If people would unlock their wifi the world would be a better place. There is a company who is working on paying people to leave wifi open. During the day when you're out of the house, who cares who uses your bandwidth?
William Brewster March 22, 2011 at 06:23 PM
You can pry my WEP encryption out of my cold dead hands!
David Evans March 22, 2011 at 06:34 PM
Paul, why exactly is that? Are you concerned about security/privacy, cost, performance or something else? Thinking people will be able to see what you are looking at on the Internet? It takes about two minutes to crack your WEP password. Think it would be more expensive if random people are utilizing your bandwidth? Concerned that having people on your network will slow down surfing, streaming movies, etc? Leave it open during the day and lock it at night. Kind of a pain but straightforward. Now freeloaders are another thing. I'm more talking about people walking freedom trail, tourists, businesspeople travelling, etc. Big picture is that bandwidth will be free, this is all a temporary situation.
William Brewster March 22, 2011 at 07:03 PM
David, Not worried about a security breech on my WEP2 and Firewall. You are free to do whatever you wish with the bandwidth you pay for but you are NOT entitled to kegislate what I do with mine. How free will the bandwidth truly be, David if it's the goverment controlling it (think of China)?
David Evans March 22, 2011 at 07:39 PM
With 3G and 4G Internet speed on our phones, wifi becomes irrelevant. Especially now that you can tether your laptop to your phone for an extra $20/month. My friend Josh started Free Press, which is a watchdog group for the media and Net Neutrality. Recommend reading this article and search around the site. http://www.freepress.net/press-release/2011/3/16/national-broadband-plan-one-year-later I don't think the US government will ever bee as oppressive as China regarding the open net. There is far more money to be made letting people do whatever they want online than if they filter access. The fight between watching tv over your internet connection or your cable connection (often same company) is the multi-billion dollar battle to watch.
David Evans March 24, 2011 at 02:28 AM
Of interest http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/03/133-us-cities-now-run-their-own-broadband-networks.ars

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