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Information Technology
Leicester MA

Cambridge, MA gets free WiFi

Joe Conley on Saturday, 04 February 2006.

MIT offers free WiFiI have to say I admire MIT for their commitment to making the internet and computers available to those who might not be able to afford it, both with the $100 laptop for children in developing nations, and now their offering of free WiFi to the entire citiy of Cambridge, Massachusetts:

" 'A priority area will be public housing,' Mary Hart, the city's director of information technolog. 'The city is working with businesses to obtain discounts or donations of computers,' she said. 'We want to make technology available to everybody, regardless of their economic standing,' Hart said. 'Thirty to $50 dollars [per month] is prohibitive for some people.'

Phone and cable TV companies have fiercely opposed free access. They contend competition from government-run Internet service stymies their incentive to invest in upgrading their networks.

''We are not competing with them,' Hart said. ''This is an entry-level option.' "

I am quite surprised that this is happening in Massachusetts, and not California. Between this and the state government's plans to switch to open-source document formats, I've been caught quite off-guard by the technological progressiveness of my home state.

But so what if phone and cable companies get mad? They're getting too close to having a monopoly on broadband internet service anyway.

Back in August the federal government proposed legislation that said that if a local or state government wants to build a network, it must issue a request for proposal (RFP) to see if any private company wants to build the network instead, and even seeks to prohibits existing municipal networks from expanding without submitting a RFP.

Earlier that month, the government also ruled that telco companies were not required to share their networks with independent ISPs when they reclassified such services as the less regulated "information services" rather than telecommunications.

Equally disturbing this month was an article from Common Cause that described how telecommunications companies are lobbying congress to "control where you go on the Internet, how fast you get there, and how much you pay for the service." They also affirm that they should be allowed to "double-charge for Internet access - collecting fees not just from us, but also from websites like Google and Yahoo," which would effectively restrict the information on the Internet to companies that can afford to share it.

Well, this story went from good news to terrible nightmare fast. I'm done.