Op / Ed

Is a Free, Citywide Wi-Fi Service Realistic?

New York City, like other metropolitan areas, is struggling to provide residents with Wifi Hotspots allowing anyone access to Internet services. Past efforts around the country have not always proven successful, making the move by NYC worth watching. The city plans to convert thousands of outdated payphone installations to wi-fi hubs within the next few months. If successful, NYC residents will have access to high speed connections throughout most of the city.

The idea is to make sure residents have reliable access to Internet service no matter what their income level. LinkNYC will no doubt face obstacles in achieving its goals, but the concept is fundamentally sound. Past issues experienced by services seeking to establish similar networks included financial difficulties, strong competition from established commercial ventures and, perhaps most importantly, rapidly evolving technologies. Because of the very public nature of the proposed hubs, there are also likely to be technical issues created by vandalism and area weather conditions.

Proponents of the plan tout the advantages for the city. First, NYC itself is not contributing financially to the controversial project. In fact, the city expects to garner millions of dollars in revenues from franchise owners. Ad revenues are expected to provide LinkNYC investors with the revenues needed to keep the project going. Pilot locations around the city have proven successful, and in addition to free wi-fi access, residents can use the sites to call 911 or 311.

According to available information, wi-fi users will enjoy unlimited Internet access with speeds up to approximately one gigabit per second. Those speeds match or exceed service currently available to some area users. However, even with the installation of thousands of hotspots, it’s projected some parts of the city will remain underserved. That suggests city fathers may want to consider taking steps to fill those gaps in service if equal service is to be available for all underserved residents.

Assuming the project works as planned, users will also be provided free charging stations for portable devices. According to current proposals, Internet access will not be limited, as it is in some other cities with initiatives in place. While the bandwidth needed will be substantial, planners say the service will have the capacity to meet the anticipated needs. Although other cities experienced difficulties in delivering on their public wi-fi hotspot plans, NYC appears to on the right track for delivering realistic service.

Bill Gordon

Bill Gordon has been writing on tech and malware subjects for 6 years and has been working in the internet and tech industry for over 15 years. He currently lives in Southern California.

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