A Perspective on “Free” Wireless Internet

Of course, it’s a little more complex than just this story, but it’s good to see the rhetorical structure of this argument. One counter-position to consider – what’s stopping cities from installing infrastructure for their own purposes ( emergency services, etc.) that citizens can piggyback onto, knowing that competing companies can always install better, for pay, services? And, of course, Google has plenty of truly market-based incentives to see that more people are on the network, don’t they? Strings Attached [pdf]

Still, they say, their citywide WiFi (CiFi, perhaps?) will be free. No question, free is good. My wireless service is expensive (although, come to think of it, not that much more than decent cable-TV service). And if the good taxpayers of Boston see fit to foot my bill, who am I to argue?

But argue I will. This is a well-meaning but terrible idea, an unnecessary intrusion by politicians into the private sector, one that would create a government-sanctioned monopoly while stultifying innovation. It’s Minitel – the disastrous French two-way proto-Internet – all over again.