Moving around a bit in London and looking for a room to live in made me reflect a bit more about access to internet. Today an ability to surf is essential for finding easy information and for contact with some people. If you’re walking around the city (or traveling) finding information can sometimes be hard without internet. In Sweden I have access to WAP/3g through my cell phone and thereby always able to look up things when needed. Traveling this is a problem because the dataroaming costs are through the roof when abroad. Finding WiFi spots in town is the option to use when looking for some specific information.
Today the free WiFi spots are few and far between. Most frequently found in coffee houses behind a password accessible only to guests. With the cost of broadband decreasing and the speed quickly increasing we most of the time have much more than needed. The only time we use our connection fully is when downloading something big, the rest of the time we have a lot of unused capacity on our WiFi.
Whilst I was living in Jönköping I chose to share my WiFi by leaving it open to whomever wanted to connect. I planned to put a password on it if I noticed the connection slowing too much but that never happened. Sharing my WiFi probably helped someone that needed it and made me feel better since I was helping out.
The main disadvantage with sharing your WiFi freely would be if too many connected or someone started downloading something big slowing your internet down too much. An easy fix to this problem would be to create a program monitoring who connects and how much traffic they use on your WiFi. This probably exists today but needs to get simpler so even amateurs can manage it. With this program the WiFi owner would be able to disconnect or limit people from using too much of their WiFi. Having these “unstable” WiFi’s where you risked being disconnected by the owner at any given time would create a good incentive to get your own WiFi that you controlled. [Guess there are some more disadvantages relating to scammers and hackers related to leaving a WiFi open but I don’t know the technical implications of this…]
Their has been a few bigger or smaller projects on providing city-wide access to WiFi. Seattle did a project for part of their city and found that business transactions increased. San Francisco tried to get a citywide WiFi with the help of Earthlink and Google but the funds were not there to make it happen. Afterwards the private company Meraki (who sells routers and wireless equipment) started “Free the Net” which was a grassroot campaign to sell and help citizens build up a wireless mesh over SF. They report that they planned to have most of the city covered at the end of 2010
A city that had it’s citizens distribute wireless internet over the entire city would benefit greatly. It would be easier to move around and still be able to work wherever you wanted. This would increase the number of people with mobile offices and also make people move around more freely. For tourists and temporary visitors it would also be a lot easier since it would be easy for them to connect and look up information through their phones or laptop when needed. Getting people more flexible and productive would increase consumption in cities. This would thereby lead to an increased revenue and effectiveness in many places.
[pic: CC-BY-NC-SA, xiaming]