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Is Wi-Fi Public Infrastructure?

An interesting read from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business:

At issue are the following questions: Are broadband services better handled by the public or private sector? Can a wireless broadband network, commonly known as Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), be used to help more low-income people gain online access, bridging what is commonly known as the digital divide? Will projects become caught up in politics? Should Internet access be viewed as city infrastructure, like telephone poles or city streets?

Meanwhile, as Foreign Policy notes, the proportion of Americans using the internet has exploded in recent years:


If Wi-Fi is considered infrastructure, like sewage systems or roads or power lines, what is the most effective way to get the U.S. to as close to 100% as possible? The United States has seen explosive productivity growth in recent years, mostly due to our general technological advantage over the rest of the world. Wi-Fi is definitely the (very near) future of productivity growth. Citizens being able to connect to the internet, anywhere, at any time, is going to be crucial for continued American economic dominance.

Thus, it should be a priority to spread this technology. Should cities be in the business of Wi-Fi? Will the market leave certain smaller, or poorer, towns behind? Does the government overregulate this area already?

The Wharton piece takes a nice look at these ideas. Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves:

Is bridging the digital divide worth letting the same folks who are in charge of fixing potholes and issuing driver's licenses, also provide us with Wi-Fi?

Posted by Will Franklin · 21 May 2005 11:03 AM