Free, city-wide WiFi? (Or a new form of urban warfare?)

I hope this new trend will catch on:

Having decided to make the capitol in Phoenix a wireless hot zone, the Arizona legislature can claim bragging rights over their colleagues in other states, at least for a little while.

Any portable computer user with wireless local-area network 802.11b or 802.11a capability can now surf the Web or collect e-mails in the House and Senate areas of the Arizona capitol, as well as other public areas. The service was turned on last month, and access is free to the public.

And here's Oregon:
With construction of one of the country's biggest regional wireless networks almost completed, an Eastern Oregon public/private partnership already has plans to expand the system.

The first phase of the broadband network, which will provide Internet data services at up to 15 megabits/sec to first responders, government agencies and eventually private homes, should be finished by the middle of March. A second phase, which could also include voice-over-IP service, is expected to begin in the summer. That will add seven more cities and 200 square miles to the system's area of coverage.

The first phase will provide service to four eastern Oregon and Washington counties and seven cities, over a total of 600 square miles.

I found the above links at NetStumbler (a site dedicated to WiFi scrounging and distance antennas. And if you like that, be sure to check out WarDriving -- a term defined, simply, as "driving around looking for wireless networks." Or even WarSpying!)

As it is now, depending on where you live (and whether you want to set up antennas), you can have free Internet in many urban areas.

All great news, but as the idea spreads, I am concerned that the FCC will be increasingly pressured into regulating the Internet. (With content filtering or other forms of censorship beginning to creep into the equation...)

After all, WiFi is radio!

And government is government!

NOTE: So far, the gummint has backed off:

The Federal Communications Commission, the government organization which regulates the airwaves, has reserved the frequencies used by wireless networks for public use, meaning that anyone is allowed to broadcast what they like on them and all devices listening to those "stations" must be prepared to receive unexpected interference. Most people with a wireless network pay a fixed rate for Internet access. Thus, it doesn't cost them anything if others use their signal and is unlikely to harm, or even slow, their system. Advocates assert that sharing with strangers is a generous, not criminal, thing to do.

"I'll stop mooching off other people's wireless connection as soon as the 80,000,000 spam companies stop mooching off mine," a post from a user calling himself Anonymous Hero read. "The idea of warchalking is beautiful, community oriented, not slave-of-the-man oriented.

"It's sort of disappointing that we have the possibility of providing free Internet access for the entire country, and the first thing people think of is whether it should be considered criminal."

"Get away from my bandwidth sonny, or I'll blow you away!"

Oh, and while I'm at it, here's "warchalking" (and didn't this all start with "warblogging"?):

Wardriving is accomplished by using a portable computer, wireless card and global positioning system (GPS) to mark the locations of wireless access-points. The FBI claims that using an open 802.11 access point without explicit authorization may be a federal crime ("theft of services, interception of communications, misuse of computing resources, up to and including violations of the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Statute, Theft of Trade Secrets"). Warchalking is the practice of marking a series of symbols on sidewalks and walls to indicate nearby wireless access. That way, other computer users can pop open their laptops and connect to the Internet wirelessly. It was inspired by the practice of hobos during the Great Depression to use chalk marks to indicate which homes were friendly.
A thought. If I'm paying for my connection, and I set up an 802.11b access point, am I then responsible for what people do on "my" bandwidth?

I don't think I should be -- but it's a sobering thought I don't particularly need!

UPDATE: Myria at "It Can't Rain All The Time" thinks I presented an overly optimistic view of these WiFi trends. (Which is funny, because I thought my post was rather pessimistic.) Many good points, although I should point out that my reference to "warblogging" was largely linguistic. (I am fascinated by how these new words creep into the language.)

No serious political comparison was intended -- much less disagreement....

However, I can imagine that proponents of the mp3, let's-share-everything philosophy might be inclined to allow untrammeled public use of their bandwidth -- in much the same way that some musicians encouraged free recording and downloading of their music (while others considered the same thing theft).

posted by Eric on 03.06.04 at 09:49 AM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Free, city-wide WiFi? (Or a new form of urban warfare?):

» No such thing as a free lunch... from It Can't Rain All The Time...
Eric at Classical Values has a wide ranging post on some trends (both new and old) in WiFi. First up are a couple of examples of what Eric says he hopes is a trend that will catch on. In the first example the Arizona capitol building in Phoenix is now ... [Read More]
Tracked on March 6, 2004 1:28 PM
» Remember - You read it here LAST!!! from Who Tends the Fires
From Blackfive comes this: Michigan Teacher Must Cover Cost Of Substitute While On Military Duty. Via the laughing Wolf. There's an update posted that indicates it may be bad journalism rather than bad school policy. Need to keep an eye... [Read More]
Tracked on March 10, 2004 2:53 AM


Apologies for presenting your discussion as more optimistic than you intended, I probably jumped a few conclusions there - Sorry.

As for the "Warblogging" thing, WarWhatever in computerese goes back as long as I can remember. An example would be Wardialing, another would be WarBots (IRC scripts). Both predate warblogging by a long ways and have very different roots. In other words, I think wardriving and wardriving come from roots that predate and are different from Warblogging.



Myria   ·  March 6, 2004 2:06 PM

Errr... wardriving and warchalking :).

Memo to self: Preview is your friend...


Myria   ·  March 6, 2004 2:08 PM

Hey don't worry about it. (Better to err on the side of spontaneity than be stultified by editorial self-restraint.)

Eric Scheie   ·  March 6, 2004 2:28 PM

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