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Can You Hear Me Now?


The more time I spend poking around my old stomping grounds – the telecommunications lobby – the more certain I am that wireless Internet access will be the consumer issue that raises the profile of the pending rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Why? Well, take the announcement that Google is hatching plans to offer free WiFi. I wrote a column about it for eWeek saying, essentially, that the roll-out of such a service will rock the political debate on telecom and rattle the cages of all the industries that are trying to get in on the rewrite. Oh, and yeah, it’s a good PR move.
The mailbox has overflowed.
Now most of the folks who wrote in said, basically, that Google can’t provide free universal WiFi, it’ll cost ‘em too much and the phone guys will fight back and they don’t have the cash etc. etc.
That may well be true. I dunno. I don’t work at Google. But I do know a little about politics and a little bit about how people are using the Internet. They know a little about those two things at Google, too (CEO Eric Schmidt grew up outside Washington, D.C.). So, I’m thinking Google WiFi, if it comes to be, won’t be universal (not really), will probably be as much brand-extension as technology, and will be seen by many people as really, really cool.
I had this little Google moment about a year ago while talking to my niece’s babysitter. She was telling me about the virtues of Firefox, the Google-endorsed web browser. Since this woman didn’t know that she worked in a house with 24/7 wireless access and thought that the transformer box on her computer power cord was part of the machine’s inner workings, I was pretty amazed to hear her talking about how Firefox was written by, as she put it, volunteers and how that was better than Microsoft. Someone – not me – has explained this to her, of course. But still…
This is what Google’s doing with its WiFi idea: Recruiting a whole new group of people to the idea of the always-on, always-connected Internet. And that leaps a gap that I think – as longtime readers of the site know – is perhaps one of the true economic dividers at work in this country right now.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 10:30 AM | Permalink

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