Free Wireless/Wireless Cooperatives

Picture by Azugaldia
Not a new idea, but one I'm trying to lobby for in the Blue Mountains.

Given that the Blue Mountains are so poorly serviced by broadband and mobile providers, I think free WiFi has a potential for becoming a popular idea, but requires a significant amount of awareness building.

I've started an eGroup for local Mountains people interested in the idea, and am keeping bookmarks on all the free WiFi setups in other cities around the world. Its growing!

Basically I see it not as a centralised service provided over a large area, but as hundreds, perhaps thousands of access points where normal broadband accounts are offered up for free public use via wireless modems. Cafes, churches, community halls, schools, council, libraries, pubs, (Blackheath's Ivonhoe is already offering free WiFi!) many others could be encouraged to offer free WiFi access to those who have a mobile device (such as laptop or PDA) with WiFi capabilities.

Basically it would mean people would be able to use the Internet (including VOIP) to a limited degree wherever there was a 'hotspot'. Young kids might start carrying and using PDAs (much better devices than the popular and over priced mobile phones) and conceivably be having free telephone calls with each other through out the mountains region. Instant messaging at the very least! Tourists and business people could enjoy free access in the cafes and public spaces, encouraging flow on business, and generally promoting the Blue Mountains as a progressive, ICT savvy area.

Most easily, each hotspot would require a standard line account to be set up. Preferably the fastest, fattest bandwidth possible. That line is plugged into a wireless modem and offered up for others to access as an open wireless signal. Immediate neighbours and local businesses would contribute to the monthly bill, and the access is kept open for others to use, therefore attracting people and potential business to within 30 meters of their area. Access to the service could start with a connection splash page, promoting who's wireless it is and advertising their other products. Obviously cafes and main street businesses stand to gain from this, and community groups could offer it as an added service with very little extra burden on their current resources.

Admittedly, the likelihood of large scale take up of the services would be small, as most people in the mountains would not own a laptop or PDA. But the open use of these devices in public spaces would help to raise awareness of the possibilities, creating an incentive to laptop and PDA companies to sponsor free WiFi initiatives.

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