Surf City: Wireless access at the beach
Offering evidence that internet access may soon be as ubiquitous and as essential as the pay phone once was, the 278-park system plans to make wifi access available -- for a fee -- to visitors who have wireless-enabled laptops or personal digital assistants, beginning with 85 venues to be outfitted by SBC.
SBC is installing the hardware and providing the service as a two-year pilot program at the 85 parks. If the program is successful, the parks department will open the system up to bids from companies that want to compete for the opportunity to sell the service, but in the meantime the phone company will have locked up nearly a third of the state's parks.
No doubt this move is being orchestrated by SBC, since only subscribers to its wireless service, FreedomLink, will have unlimited internet access at the public parks. Other taxpayers will be able to get to the state's websites for free, but will be charged $7.95 for 24-hour access or $19.95 for unlimited monthly service if they want to check their email or go to weather.com while at the beach.
It hardly needs to be said that from the consumer's point of view this is a bad idea (the state will get 10 percent of the fee, which doesn't seem like much of a deal for the state, either). Wifi technology is cheap and getting cheaper, and there is no reason to limit access in public spaces to subscribers of expensive services.
Other Southland state parks and beaches that are expected to be connected by summer include Anza Borrego, Cardiff, Carlsbad, South Carlsbad, Old Town San Diego, Silver Strand, and San Onofre.
Although they are not among the first 85, sooner or later the state will bring wifi to the Santa Monica and L.A. beaches, where it is to be hoped that local officials can make a more sensible arrangement on behalf of their constituents. Santa Monica, especially, has direct control over its beach under a contract with the state and is in a strong position to insist on public access there. They have two years to demonstrate to the parks department that there is a better and cheaper way to connect the public and virtual realms.
Maybe the Convention & Visitors Bureaus in Santa Monica and Los Angeles will see the wisdom in making the phrase "public access" mean what it says.
Here's the pdf of the press release: <http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/712/files/011905.pdf>