NYC Wide Web: City Moves Towards Free Wi-Fi for Everyone

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has brought the dream of a nearly zero-cost (to taxpayers) wireless cloud in New York City closer than ever with a brilliant plan. Admittedly first proposed in the last administration, if successful the proposal will enjoin a private-public partnership system that will install tens of thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots around the city. Access will be free and unlimited, and here's the kicker — it will be, for the most part, privately funded, and gladly so.

How do they plan to do it? The strategy is two-fold. First, the Wi-Fi routers will be placed on city property that has been leased to advertisers. Billboards, old telephone booths, subway ads, etc. Year after year private advertisers pay millions of dollars to get their names up in public access areas and central commons. Previously, the deal was, pay the city and for a limited time your sign goes up. Signs are expensive too, especially ones that are illuminated.

Well, now, the updated deal will be, buy public advertising space and along with your message, your company will be required to purchase and hang up one or two expertly camouflaged Wi-Fi routers to create a local wireless cloud. Equipment prices have plummeted to such lows that, frankly, the system's costs will be marginal — practically built-in. There will be no huge increases in rates to these advertising firms. The actual network would presumably be run by the city; again, supported by, say, a small additional fee to be paid by advertisers. The actual public network would be ad-free. And once the infrastructure is up and running, additional costs to advertisers will drop to near zero.

This is a great idea for Jersey, but there's more. Another source of revenue that could create an instant, funded and installed Wi-Fi network is through a small increase for illuminated sign and tower permits. If a business seeks to construct and display an illuminated sign (even on private property), for a few extra dollars the payer would fund one or two routers adjoining such signage.

Free Wi-Fi. Widespread. Readily available. Supported (mostly) by private sources for the public good, and implanted in a ready-made infrastructure. For Jersey, the possibilities are endless. With a little bit of tweaking with the contracts for billboard and other advertisers, we can unleash a long-overdue public resource: Free Wi-Fi. Think about it. How many huge billboards do you see locally? On bridges? Along the Turnpike? Aside tall buildings? How many old phone booths dot our towns and cities? In Newark there must be hundreds of sites, just waiting to be transformed to beacons on the Information Superhighway.

Using this arrangement, Wi-Fi clouds could be quickly established in our cities. Newark, Camden, Jersey City, Union City, New Brunswick...even smaller communities with dense, commercial downtown areas like Kearney, Princeton, Irvington and Belleville would benefit.

Okay, we've got this great idea. It's already beginning to work for other cities. This idea is way outside the box, but it is sure to work, helping to light up our cities in the 21st century like they were illuminated in the 20th.

Our effort must be centered on the State Legislature. That is the only statewide authority capable of passing the laws to make this plan possible.

Let's do this. Let's have the hard liquor and cigarette advertisers in our cities bring fast, free Internet to our kids. Let's take those bright signs along Route 1 and bring Internet to motorists and local shoppers. This plan is a no brainer. Do we dare to innovate? Can we still do great things? I believe we can.


Cross Posted from Dan Kurz's Jersey Globe Blog

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