The Idea of Free Wireless is Great–Just not for Real

Today’s WSJ had a story with the gloomy headline: Free Wi-Fi Still An Elusive Goal. The story told of how difficult it has been to roll out and ‘monetize’ the envisioned beltway of free wireless connections on every town square and across miles and miles of the US. At one time, I too was caught up in the giddy notion that we could put up little devices on telephone poles and make money offering a wireless internet service to our neighborhoods. But in each of the cities that these dreams were talked up, problems have arisen.

Earthlink, the major muscle behind this idea in a dozen cities has retrenched. They just don’t think enough people want or need the premium version of the free service and don’t want to move ahead. A huge project to create free Wi-Fi in the entire Silicon Valley has also stalled. IBM and Cisco have cooled and while they say they are still interested, nobody is writing the big checks.

I just got a new Bountiful Router in the mail, this was the heart of our own little Free Wi-Fi zone in South Deerfield. With no state funds nor town support, we built a free wireless network that expands about 1000 yards all around downtown. My neighbors in other shops, men in Verizon trucks, and even a guy in Subway, on the next block, eagerly and regularly log on to our network and surf the net. We love it…giving away something we value very much gives us a great feeling.