Pointer to article:
Imagine the horror that Philadelphia booksellers felt when Benjamin Franklin organized the USA’s first municipal library more than 200 years ago. People can borrow books at no charge from a big public library? Why would anybody ever buy a book ever again?
As we know, municipal libraries didn’t put much of a crimp in the publishing industry here or anywhere. Likewise, free access to the Web from library-situated computers hasn’t stopped people from subscribing to ISP services and installing Web-connected computers all over their homes.
I applaud what Grand Haven, Michigan is doing. I think most municipalities should provide their citizens with free WiFi-based Internet access. This should be part of the basic infrastructure that our taxes support, alongside roads, sidewalks, and sewers. It would be a critical component of the total package of civic amenities that spell the difference between a livable, economically vital community and a backwater.
I don’t think municipalities should worry about whether they’re putting a crimp in WiFi hotspot operators’ business models. My sense is that the hotspot industry is converging with the public cellular industry, which is converging with the landline telecom industry. Ultimately, there’ll just be a few nationally marketed telecom service brands, and they’ll offer the full range of voice, data, and multimedia services, including seamless broadband roaming from public to private wireless cells (and between wireless and landline networks).
As the broadband wireless industry evolves, municipal hotspots will provide the lowest-common-denominator free service option. But they’ll probably not support roaming to and from carriers’ public wireless networks (and only occasionally to other municipalities’ wireless networks). Instead, the municipal hotspots will be positioned as “fixed” wireless access islands with coverage primarily in business districts, libraries, municipal buildings, and other civic centers. Does anybody seriously think that, for example, Fairfax County, Virginia (the huge sprawling municipality to which I pay property tax) is going to install WiFi access points on every street corner? Even with WiMax, I doubt that citizens here or elsewhere will want their tax dollars spent on duplicating a “goldplated” wireless infrastructure best left to the private sector.
So Cingular, Verizon, Sprint et al. needn’t worry about being pre-empted by the municipal WiFi hotspots. Users will tune into those networks only when their primary wireless provider’s network is down or out of range.
And I would advise the wireless carriers to call off their lawyers, who are attempting to get state PUCs and legislators to nip the municipal hotspots in the bud. Actually, these hotspots are the best thing yet to happen to the broadband wireless market. They’ll enfranchise the masses on WiFi, and make them eager for value-added, higher-bandwidth metropolitan, regional, and national wireless services. In other words, for value-added services that only the huge national brands can build and sustain.