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Why Can't US Cities Connect to Free Internet?

Why Can't US Cities Connect to Free Internet?

Philadelphia just became another major US city to hit a connection snag in their plan to offer citywide free Wi-Fi. Earthlink, the private company working with Philly, has just announced its intention to pull the figurative plug on Philly's operating project. Why the pull-out? Money. The New York Times reports that: "The conclusion that such ventures would not be profitable led to sudden withdrawals by service providers like EarthLink, the Internet company that had effectively cornered the market on the efforts by the larger cities."

The virtual age is making internet a utility rather than a luxury, so with all the other services cities offer — libraries, parks, public transportation, and water — many realize the necessity to provide citizens with free municipal wireless internet. It's been three years since Philadelphia announced its plan to become the city of wireless love, bringing free internet to all residents and the poor are feeling the pinch.

Tons of other cities, like Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco, realize the need and have decided to follow suit — but wireless for the masses is still just a pipe dream. Massive technological problems, faulty business models, politics, and of course, money, have resulted in a bad connection between the cities and their internet provider partners. To see the impact of this disconnection,


Living without the internet can be an insurmountable disadvantage to the already struggling. This day in age, the internet is used for almost everything, from finding a job, to completing a high school research paper.

Is the internet a luxury, or a citizen's right? Would it be best to let the private sector continue to cut prices, and separately subsidize those who still cannot afford a connection? How can residents find out about all the other great city services, if they can't even google them? Are you in favor of free Wi-Fi?


Join The Conversation
chicnik chicnik 9 years
Free internet sure is idealistic, and I'm all for idealism. But consider the way things tend to go once the government sticks its hands into them. Many ISPs offer email hosting, do you want government regulations on email? And if the ISP is government regulated, how secure and private will internet based transactions be? Online banking, shopping, along with personal communication, social networks, the reach of government intervention is potentially limitless (the way the internet used to be described) - you give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile. Smaller government, more privatized markets (especially the communications industry), will keep quality high and prices low. It is unfortunate when the needy do not have access to what is now considered a utility. Perhaps charities can step up to the plate. If any one of us feels obliged to help, we can. We don't need the government to do it for us. Consider the cell phone market. This also is now regarded as a utility in our society. Will government be socializing this industry as well? Are we a socialist nation - no - we are a Republican nation. Vote Ron Paul :) No free internet. It sounds too good to be true because it is. Think about the consequences.
Angelica Angelica 9 years
I'm totally in favor of free wifi. I get that it would create all kinds of security issues, but I know I would use it responsibly. In the year 2000...
Matdredalia Matdredalia 9 years
I think it's a luxury, and a nice one at that, but not a right. As long as libraries are offering internet access, as well as schools, community centers, etc. and our citizens have at least SOME access to the internet in some form, I think we're good. Yes, free WiFi is something to aim for, but not necessarily essential.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
I find it always fascinating that when something is given away for free to poor people it is never possible yet we always seem to find money for tax breaks for the wealthiest. Maybe someday people will wake up but probably not.
mymellowman mymellowman 9 years
I honestly think the idea of free wi-fi is something that sounds great on paper, but isn't practical to employ. The internet will still be needed to be supplied from someone other than the city, so that means taking tax dollars to pay for something that I may or may not use. Additionally, it sounds nice to put wi-fi in under privileged areas, but will it actually be accessed by those in the area? All in all, I believe this sounds a lot better than it actually could/would be.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 9 years
I agree, ladypenguin and divinelight. It would be something nice for a city to offer, but I think there are more important problems in most cities that need to be tackled first.
divinelight divinelight 9 years
Libraries have free access to the internet. So while I think it would be great to have free wireless anywhere, it isn't absolutely necessary for those who don't have internet access at home.
ladypenguin ladypenguin 9 years
But also...I'm not sure that free wi-fi is going to give access to the masses. You'd still need to have your own computer (and probably laptop to access the outdoor only variety) that is wi-fi capable. Most people who can't afford a monthly internet bill probably also won't be able to afford the technology to use it.
ladypenguin ladypenguin 9 years
We've had free wi-fi in downtown Pittsburgh for a while far as I know there haven't been any issues. You can get two free hours of access a day.
Taadie Taadie 9 years
I live in Philly and its a mess regardless of free internet or not. I was looking forward to it but the last mayor and the incredible amount of bureaucracy in this town made it damn near impossible. But to get back to the point, I think free wifi would be fantastic. Lord knows comcast has an unholy monopoly on internet access in this city but maybe if they privatize it completely someone will get down to making it really and truly affordable for the average citizen. That or they will keep jacking up the prices.
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