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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Free WiFi For All

Wow, free City-Wide WiFi! Just click and surf, anywhere within your city limits. Free! From the government! Hey - sounds great when you first hear that, right? What can be bad about it? It's FREE! And even better - it's provided by the government! The words Free and Government together is as oxymoronic as it gets.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Most of the time, even if you get a free lunch from someone, you've had to do something to earn it. At work maybe it's hitting a certain number of sales or exceeding a goal. Or maybe you won that free lunch from winning a bet...oops, I mean wager. Ultimately, a free and no-stings-attached lunch is the minority.

So what's up with cities jumping on the free WiFi bandwagon? Is WiFi a Public Utility? Are they looking at WiFi and defining it as a public utility? But is it really free? Is distributing WiFi by a government entity (and calling it "free") something cities should be providing or getting involved in? Should government, at any level - local, state, federal - be in the business of providing goods or services to its people that can be handled and provided by businesses in the private sector?

Once the camels nose of government is in the tent of private business it's there permanently. Take cable television. Because of government, and only because of government, cable TV is a legal and regulated monopoly. You disagree? You live in the suburb of 'Westview' and are served by XYZ Cable Communications Co. But you really prefer the pricing and channels offered by ZYX Cable across town in 'Eastview'. Sorry, you can't get ZYX Cable in Westview. You'll have to sell you house and move to Eastview if you want ZYX Cable.

The cost for Free WiFi from your city will be paid for by hidden costs. There is no free lunch. Unless you're a politician on the take. Is that an oxymoron? If today "it's" free from the government, at any level, you can almost bet...I mean
wager...that a fee or tax will be assessed to it tomorrow. Nothing from government is free. You're not even going to get it at cost.

Here's three items that mix well together: E-mail, privacy and the government. Yeah, those three mix as well as children, gasoline, and a non-childproof lighter manufactured in China. Privacy? Why don't you let your government officials proofread and spellcheck your personal, handwritten letters and listen in on your phone conversations as well. You want to hop on a WiFi connection provided to you by the government?

I don't pretend to have all the answers to cities providing free WiFi. But there are some questions that need answering before cities just start blanketing their boundaries with "Free" WiFi.

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