Thursday, June 29, 2017

Why are we hording WIFI?

When you click on your phone or computer's WIFI icon in most parts of the United States, you likely see a long list of password protected WIFI hot spots.  Each spot represents an individual or company choosing to keep the Internet to themselves.

This is the normal.  When we buy a new wireless router, setting a password to limit access is one of the first configuration steps.  Even routers with built in guest modes password protect access by default.

Free public access to WIFI could be good for everybody, the poor and affluent alike.

I know that I pay way too much to a cellular provider every month, and I bet you do too.  If only WIFI signals were ubiquitous and available, I would be closer to bypassing the cellular company.

I pay about $50 a month for broadband Internet.  I pay more than $300 a month for cellular Internet.

Government won't step in to provide public WIFI anytime soon, at least not where I live.  But what if wireless routers were sold with a voluntary public band by default, configured to be open?  If it were possible to give up 10% of your wireless and Internet bandwidth for the common good, would you do it?

As a civic minded individual, I would.  But it would need to be dead simple, a zero-configuration option.

I'm imagining a wireless router company selling a product---call it ShareFI.  It's just a typical 802.11 type router pre-configured to allow up to 10% of the bandwidth to be publicly available to neighbors without a password.

Such a system would allow civic minded consumers to make the decision to share once: at the point of purchase.  From that point on, bandwidth would be shared without any further thought or effort for as long as the wireless router is in use.

Having wireless access is a bit like owning a swimming pool.   Does every home in the neighborhood really need their own personal in-ground swimming pool?  Of course not.  I grew up in a neighborhood where only one neighbor had a pool, and if you were lucky, they'd invite you over to swim.  Everyone else was out of luck, including me.

Community pools make sense: when neighbors combine resources everyone gets to swim.

If every private hotspot in my city shared 10% of the bandwidth, I'd be able to make a call from practically anywhere without using a cellular service.  That's good for me as someone who can afford bandwidth, because it drives down my cost of communication.  And its good for those who can't afford bandwidth:  The poor unable to pay their phone bill would have a fail-over plan, one allowing them to stay connected during times of crisis.

It's not likely that everyone would join in.  But I believe that many would.  People of good intention are likely to share when given the hassle-free opportunity.

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