Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Philadelphia is considering investing $10M to blanket 135 square miles with wifi coverage.

I agree with David Weinberger that the wifi project in Philadelphia is a good thing. Like David, I hear and understand the arguments against government running things that businesses can do, but I think that in the case of some of the low cost basic infrastructure like this, I think municipal governments can often deploy and run it just fine. I think that we need to start thinking of parts of our network as assets like roads, which can and should be run by government.

I will add that in most cases I believe in free markets and competition for this sort of thing.


There are some strong arguments in favour of community owned networks ... in the US ... but transport yourself into the developing world and the stakes get higher (in a strange way, more to win, but less to loose). Not necessarily fiber, but wireless networks could provide physical access to a much larger part of the population - in a very affordable way, but the expected profits are too low to encourage private sector investment. It has not been tried, but I believe there are ways to self-sustain (economic sustainability!) these networks in Africa -- and the profits, albeit not financial -- would be significant for a large number of people.

Before my idealism gets the better of me: Two of the people I find are laying out the arguments well are: Lawrence Lessig (Fiber to the People / Wired and Yochai Benkler.

>believe in free markets

I think that the issue is similar to cellular standards: the fragmentation of the US market is still hurting it and puts it behind Japan, or Europe. A uniform approach is the one creating the right level of network effect.

On the other hand the municipal investments in the short range wifi technology might discourage the more application of more appropriate ones in WiMax.

one thing I've been wondering about with this.. and all government-sponsored WIFI innitiatives is whether there are privacy concerns. It would seem a government run ISP would be much more likely to turn over records than a private company. Does anyone know anything about that?

Here in Estonia we have a similar thing going on, although with somewhat smaller areas - municipalities setting up WiFi coverage areas or subsidizing net connections. And cafes and restaurants considering free WiFi as essential as sugar.

Ben, if you're worried about privacy, you are free to use tools to protect yourself, such as strongly encrypted protocols that protect your message contents. Or just unplug.

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The mayor of Philadelphia is proposing to invest around $10 million for what would end up being the world's largest WiFi Network. [via Joi Ito's Web]... Read More