The next internet revolution isn't about speed or availability it's all about accessibility but we're in danger of scoffing at this in favour of filling the pockets of the big telco's.
Canary Wharf has been parading itself as a paradigm for a forward thinking next-gen business community with the announcment that the Docklands is now covered by Europe's largest Wi-Fi zone. While we don't wish to poor scorn over the project one does wonder exactly how many people will be using the service when it costs twice as much as a consumer broadband connection per month. Clearly a cost to be absorbed by the business but one that will be too much for the individual to swallow, heaven forbid that the network would be free and open for the whole community to use.
This really isn't anything new for the UK and indeed the US where traditional telco's have local govenments tied up in knots over anti-competitive legislature to protect their businesses. What they fail to be able to come up with is a business model which would enable their corporate and consumer offerings to flurish in parallel with a free and open wireless network.
While telco's are keen to stiffle it the socio-economic advantages aren't lost on local governments. Also in London, Islington Council have built the largest free public-access network in the UK, dubbed the 'technolgy mile' it runs the length of Upper Street and was financed entirely by the council. The council stated that the decision was taken in order to boost the economic activity in the area and encourage residents on to the internet. In the US, Philidelphia have overcome telco defiance to build what will become a 135 square mile internet hotspot and while it won't be free it is to be not for profit and is designed to offer lower cost high speed internet connections to low-income residents.
The final pointer to the new revolution comes from the Big Easy. New Orleans may have been hit hard by Huricane Katrina but it appears that lessons were learnt. As reported in Information Week Mayor C. Ray Nagin has announced that the city will be covered by a 512kps Wi-Fi network which will be free to all citizens. One of the reasons for this was undoubtably that the only network which was still running during the height of the storm was the internet and the only way the White House could communicate with New Orleans was using VOIP technology. The building of the network is only possible because under a state of emergency New Orleans was able to bypass Louisiana state regulations, which limits cities from providing high speed internet connections.
Will telco's flounder in New Orleans? Not if they get their offerings right. In reality it could increase their potential for revenues by exposing them to new customers. An open wireless network will not be fast enough, secure enough and probably not resilient enough for business users and current high use consumers but what they have to do is offer added value and communicate this effectively. The benefits to be had from a fully connected society are huge it's just a shame that those decision makers in Canary Wharf couldn't see that.