Needed: Universal Wi-Fi Access
It's not as though providing a wi-fi network is a major capital expense requiring a big investment by the city. In fact, it may not require public funds at all.
What's needed, more than anything, is leadership.
In Turku, Finland, according to MasterNewMedia.Org, a city-wide network of wi-fi hotspots was installed in one month time with absolutely no centralized investment or public funding. Using the cooperative model, community members agreed to share surplus broadband connection capacity on a municipal-wide basis.
SparkNet, a partnership between public sector organizations and private companies, including University of Turku, Åba Akademi University, Turku School of Economics and Business Administration, Turku Polytechnic, ICT Turku Ltd and MP-MasterPlanet Ltd., has created a network outside of any of the participating institutions' firewalls. Using a shared open source operating system that allows each partner to use its own internet gateway (e.g., wherever a student uses this network, the connection goes through the college's internet gateway), each institution has acquired a number of inexpensive access points. With the participation of private companies, municipalities, etc., every student in Turku (over 50,000) can use the SparkNet wi-fi network all over the city free of charge. SparkNet has now over 100,000 user accounts, more than 5,000 active users and over 500 access points. It is the most used wi-fi network in Finland.
Private companies or even individual home users can also easily and inexpensively create a voluntary co-op network. Using one version, OpenSpark, anyone can share his broadband connection with others wirelessly. Both OpenSpark and SparkNet can be installed and operated in any home or office with a broadband connection. Any ADSL or better type of connection will do. Participants can connect to the internet wherever there is an OpenSpark access point. In Turku, using OpenSpark, 600 access points have been acquired with more in the pipeline.Either SparkNet and OpenSpark can be deployed anywhere. There is already one OpenSpark access point in New York City and more are expected to pop up in other locations. Many municipalities -- from Philadelphia to Culver City -- are installing citywide public networks. All that is needed is a broadband connection, free software, and an access-point hardware device costing $130 or so. In a city as small as Santa Monica, the expense of covering the commercial and retail areas -- Santa Monica, Wilshire, Pico and Ocean Park boulevards, downtown, the Pier, Main Street, Montana, Broadway, Colorado, SMCC and the airport -- would be a phenomenal value.
But, although the software is free and the hardware very inexpensive, it will take a commitment of someone's time to get this project organized. What company, institution or agency is willing to take the lead in bringing universal wi-fi access to Santa Monica by freeing up one of its employees for a month or so to put together the necessary resources? The neighborhood associations? The business districts? Santa Monica College? City Hall? The Chamber of Commerce? An internet company like Yahoo or Google? Someone needs to step forward now.
Let's do it.
To learn more about OpenSpark: <http://open.sparknet.fi>