Business Week on the Mesh

Business week reports on the ways WiFi are putting broadband power in the hands of the people, and goes on to speculate on how this could reshape the broadband oligopoly. Personally, I think that citizen-controlled broadband access is a wonderful idea - but there are two issues (also read opportunities) here as well:

  • Interconnect to the Internet: Which means that if people are going to violate their AUPs, oligopolies will attempt to squash them or at least paint them in a negative light. Note how the conversation in the mainstream media falls into the classic "Robin Hood" mold, talking about stealing from the bandwidth-rich and giving to the rest of us.

  • Management of the mesh: Until enough of these devices make their way into people's hands, there will be reliability problems and poor user experiences for the non-techie. And when deployment does become widespread, interference and spectrum use become an issue, especially in dense urban environments. For broadband to really reach all of the urban areas in the country, we're going to need much smarter devices and we're going to need some (loose-handed) management, especially at the network interconnect points. That takes time and energy, which means money.

Community broadband activists: We need to be careful about how the media portays us, lest we become painted with the same "hacker, cracker, pirate, lawbreaker" brush that the MPAA and RIAA love to paint users of file swapping services and internet radio. This starts with terminology and concrete example. Why do we call it wardriving, for example? Or Warchalking? Well, it sounds cool, and we techies like the sounds of the terms. It sounds cool and dangerous. But it plays into the monopolist's hands.

We can battle this. Get involved in, and promote a low-income or egalitarian use of WiFi, like a project to wire towns in the Dominican Republic or set up wireless access at your local library.

Besides, it'll feel good helping out, too.