Thursday, May 31, 2007
Gilt behind the scenes
By Mike Buckingham
[WEB WIZARDS: Roger Cucksey and John Wilson, the men behind Newport's arts coup]
Newport has an optimistic picture of itself and guess what? The city's art collection is bigger and better than Cardiff's. MIKE BUCKINGHAM reports on the latest example of cultural one-upmanship.
IMAGINE you are a late 18th century traveller happening upon a sleepy Newport which is nothing more than a few houses huddled in the shadow of the castle.
"You would be struck by its tranquility and beauty. Even painters like Turner were impressed," Roger Cucksey says passionately.
"Being attractive to painters of his calibre is a superb start towards building up what is for Newport's size and wealth a formidable art collection."
Ruefully, Newport's keeper of art admits that we do not have the original Turner which is worth Newport's entire arts budget for the next 10 years.
"But we do have an excellent copy of his painting of Newport castle that was for a long time taken as an orginal.
"Pictures are historical documents as well as things of great beauty and this particular picture helps build up the mosaic of how Newport has developed over the last 200 years."
Painstakingly, scouring not only Newport Museum and Art Gallery's own collection but also council offices, committee rooms and annexes, Roger Cucksey and friend and colleague John Wilson have amassed an actual and virtual art collection telling Newport's story from its rustic beginnings, through its flowering as an industrial Hercules in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the re-invention of itself as a city for the 21st century.
[SCENE: Death of Blaenavon by Terry Jones]
"To say we have a splendid collection of paintings is true but tends to describe a static picture," Roger Cucksey enthuses.
"In fact we have not only captured the attention of serious artists but have a thriving arts scene.
"We have been hiding our light under a bushel for far too long."
An exhibition entitled Documenting the City running at Newport's art gallery in John Frost Square until July 7 is only part of the story.
"The number of pictures on show are dwarfed by the 500 images split up into the city's most important cultural and historical phases we have put online," he adds.
"We start with the early period typical of which is Anthony Devis's arcadian view of Newport approaching from Christchurch dated around 1780.
"We then trace the growth of modern Newport treating industry and the River Usk as separate themes.
"Monmouthshire from which the thriving young Newport drew its sustenance is obviously of great importance and we look at the way various painters have characterised the Valleys from the 19th century almost up to the present with Terry Jones colourful Death of the Town of Blaenavon.
"Modern artists represented are Phil Muirden and Jack Crabtree associated with Newport Art College, Falcon Hildred with his wonderful drawings and of course the late Tom Rathmell."
A parallel and permanent internet show of the gallery's collection is now online. "The city's pictures are there at the click of a mouse.
"We have even designed an interactive display with Google Earth in which you can take a virtual tour.
"If we put all this in a book it would be out of date almost before it was printed.
"By putting it on line people can see acquisitions even before they are put up. "It's all part of a continuous process."
And even if you are of the 'I-don't-know-much-about-art-but I know-what-I-like' school of art, there is something delicious to savour.
"We probably have a public collection which is even bigger than Cardiff's," Cucksey proudly proclaims.
"Cardiff happens to house the national collection but I doubt their own collection is as comprehensive as Newport's."
* Access the exhibition and art gallery via the links below. Also via Newport City Council web pages.
Collection has a proud history
TRUE to the ethos of the times not a lot these days gets done for love. Money is the main motivator.
"It's the same in art," Roger Cucksey says.
"We started with nothing but as various benefactors wanted to show off their contribution to society some pictures were bequeathed.
"Before the war there was a pot of money which which a couple of people would take to the Royal Academy and spend on purely aesthetic grounds.
"That's how we got the pictures by Dame Laura Knight who was one of he most important painters of the pre-war and wartime period.
"Things haven't been quite the same since the war when an increase in wealth has been accompanied by an enormous increase in the price of paintings.
"More and more the artistic treasures of a city are seen to be intimately bound up with its development.
"By whatever route pictures have come to us we have managed to amass something of which we can be very proud and which enhances the city's reputation."
Ofcom Extends Broadband Opportunities In Rural Areas
Ofcom today introduced new regulations to extend wireless broadband access across the country, including in rural areas.
The regulations cover the 5.8 GHz band, currently used by a number of operators to provide fixed wireless broadband services in the UK. Under the new regulations, which come into effect today, the operators will be able to increase power levels, potentially extending the range and variety of services into parts of the country that were previously not covered. This is likely to have its most marked effect in rural areas.
Ofcom’s Communications Market Report: Nations and Regions published earlier this month found that while the geographic gap is closing a digital divide still existed in the UK. The report showed that 41 per cent of adults living in rural areas had broadband internet at home compared to 45 per cent of adults in urban areas. The power increase in this band will make it less expensive for operators intending to use this band to provide fixed broadband access to remote parts of the UK.
Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said: “This measure means communities across the country may be able to benefit from access to a new form of broadband. That is what closing the digital divide is all about.”
Today’s announcement follows a public consultation held last year.
In order to allow changes to the regulations, Ofcom had to amend to the UK Interface Requirement (IR 2007) and carry out the notification procedure required under EU law.
This process is now complete and the IR 2007 be found here.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
The Digital Dividend Review
1.7 The Digital Dividend Review (DDR) addresses how this spectrum should be awarded and for what uses. It is one of the most important issues that Ofcom faces.
1.8 We published proposals on 19 December 2006[(-3-)] and consulted on them until 20 March 2007. Fundamentally, we proposed releasing this spectrum in a way that would allow users flexibility to decide how, for what and by whom it was used. In line with the SFR, we proposed to do this by adopting a market-based, technology and service-neutral approach while acknowledging the fundamental responsibilities of regulation: to prevent one use of spectrum interfering harmfully with another and to ensure fair and effective competition.
1.9 Our key objective in releasing the digital dividend is to maximise the value that the use of this spectrum is likely to bring to society over time. To assist us in meeting this objective, we carried out a considerable amount of analysis and research in the years before publishing our proposals. The results were set out in annexes[(-4-)] to the consultation document. The key components were:
* technical analysis of the ways in which the spectrum could be used;
* extensive research into consumers’ interest in various potential uses;
* an assessment of the potential demand for different services;
* modelling of the likely value of the spectrum to consumers and businesses and society more generally; and
* consideration of the options for packaging the spectrum and designing an auction.
The purpose of this document
1.10 Our proposals drew significant and extensive comment from stakeholders ranging from public-service broadcasters (PSBs) and mobile-network operators (MNOs) to equipment manufacturers, consumer and advisory groups, public bodies, Members of Parliament and individuals. In total, we received around 750 responses. We are extremely grateful to all those who took the time and effort to convey their views to us.
1.11 Those responses have given us a large amount of information and alternative options to consider.
1.12 The purpose of this document is to provide stakeholders with:
* a summary of responses;
* information on the additional work that we are undertaking to progress the DDR; and
* the revised timetable to which we are working.
The structure of this document
1.13 Section 2 provides a summary of our key proposals and the responses that we received.
1.14 Section 3 describes the additional work that we are undertaking and the revised timetable to which we are working.
1.15 Annex 1 sets out the list of questions that we asked in our consultation document.
1.16 Annex 2 lists those organisations (i.e. excluding individuals) who responded to the consultation.
The full document is available below
* Digital Dividend Review - Summary of consultation responses and revised timetable [pdf]
Full Print Version
Friday, May 25, 2007
|Media Licensing, Convergence and Globalization|
Open Spectrum Foundation
EastBound, Vol. 1, March 13, 2006
For nearly a century, governments have imposed detailed limits on the use of radio - who can use what frequencies and waveforms, at what power levels, in which locations, for what purposes. Licenses summarize these controls for specific users or stations. State control of radio use goes far beyond what is accepted for other media, (publishing, photography, Internet, speech, etc.). Most people think this is necessary to control interference; others felt that broadcasting was too powerful a social influence to be left unregulated.
But recently, there has been explosive growth in short-range, personal uses of radio - Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cordless phones, etc. The arguments used to justify radio licensing seem inappropriate for such low-power devices. In fact, government regulation of purely personal, informal communications is unnecessarily intrusive and politically risky. Many countries now allow some short-range wireless devices to be used without a license in specific bands. In general, smarter radios go a long way toward solving problems that once seemed to require rigid government controls, giving rise to the open spectrum movement.
At the same time, digitalisation and the widening use of TCP/IP make it possible to transmit nearly any content through any channel. We use our mobile phones to take photographs, send text messages and watch videoclips. Our cable television networks provide Internet access. Seeping out of their original contexts, dissimilar media traditions now mix and clash in interconnecting, hybrid networks. In this situation, it is crucially important to the future of human communication which regulatory norms emerge as default choices and dominant models. Will it be broadcasting, telephony, publishing, Internet or ordinary speech that sets the tone for communications policy in the age of ubiquitous networks? Which regulatory approach do we WANT to set the tone?
Suggested Citation Horvitz, Robert J., "Media Licensing, Convergence and Globalization" . EastBound, Vol. 1, March 13, 2006 Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=895060
The Open Spectrum movement sees a future in which the community can directly access the airwaves, writes ELLIE RENNIE, and Dewayne Hendricks is showing how it can be done
IN 2010, or thereabouts, the Australian government plans to switch-off analogue television transmitters. The electromagnetic spectrum, or radio waves, currently occupied by the free-to-air analogue channels will be vacated. You might call it an eviction, except that most of the current tenants (the commercial and national television broadcasters) have already been given the equivalent of rent-controlled penthouse suites on another band reserved for digital television. So what will happen to the old “analogue” spectrum? Will it be auctioned off to the highest bidder or left for media squatters to inhabit?
The media experts have been assuming that the leftover channels will be used for new digital television services. But recent developments in the US and UK indicate that the vacant radio waves may be put to a different use altogether. Ofcom (the UK’s Office of Communications) is currently undertaking a “Licence-Exemption Framework Review” which proposes to set aside greater bandwidth for devices that can transmit information without needing permission from the regulator. In other words, we may see new portions of the airwaves turned into a public commons which anyone can use as long as they comply with some basic rules. “Licence exempt” does not mean that you can start transmitting a new London-wide television channel from a bedsit in Brixton – at least not in the near future. But it may pave the way for new communications technologies that will transform the communications landscape in ways that are perhaps even more radical.
Licence exempt use of the airwaves already exists in Austalia, but only for very low power and short-range communication. Every time you turn on a baby monitor, connect to wireless broadband or operate your garage door you are participating in the spectrum commons. The Ofcom review states that UK citizens should expect to see “more intensive use of future bands set aside for licence-exempt applications and perhaps eventually of existing bands, resulting in more exempt devices, higher data rates from existing devices, or a combination of both.” The review paper glances over the fact that new technologies are already in development that could see a vastly more efficient use of the airwaves – including ubiquitous broadband and a level of connectivity and speed far beyond current services. For this to eventuate, a significant shift in communications regulation is required. The current Ofcom review may only be proposing a small shift, but it suggests that incremental change is now underway.
Australia’s current regime for spectrum management remains locked into a “property” model, which was developed to accommodate what are now considered to be out-of-date, “dumb” or “impolite” receivers such as standard clock radios and television sets. The assumption behind this arrangement is that spectrum is a scarce resource and that untamed signals result in interference. Therefore, each licensee is allocated a specific frequency on which to transmit their signals, with room in between to ensure that their signals don’t overlap. Although digital transmission technology compresses broadcast signals – allowing for more channels – spectrum is still essentially “limited.” Thus, regulation has tended to allocate portions of spectrum to specific services, in the same way that land is divided for occupancy by land-owners and tenants.
Spectrum scarcity has been under fire from technical experts for decades. David P. Reed, one of the internet’s original architects, has been arguing that problem lies not in the amount of spectrum available but in the receivers (“There’s no scarcity of spectrum any more than there’s a scarcity of the colour green”, Reed once stated). In other words, the problem lies not with the amount of spectrum, but with unsophisticated technology. An impolite receiver gets confused if there are two signals at or near the same frequency – because it cannot differentiate between them, information appears garbled at the point of reception. New technologies, such as software-defined radios (SDRs), are able to distinguish between signals, and receive (and relay) information across non-adjacent bands. This “polite” technology has been slow to develop as there has been little use for such devices, given the limitations of spectrum allocation.
In January 2002, Wired magazine published an article on tech-guru Dewayne Hendricks, a ham radio enthusiast and former Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The “broadband cowboy,” as he was dubbed, has remained at the forefront of open spectrum technologies – designing, testing and implementing the wireless networks of the future. Since the article was published, Hendricks has been demonstrating that ubiquitous, high-speed broadband can be delivered using radio spectrum, releasing broadband from the constraints of cable whilst maintaining the decentralised, self-regulating structure of the internet. In order to achieve this, Hendricks needed to find some UHF spectrum that would not land him with a court order from the FCC. The solution was to work on Native American lands with communities who were prepared to evade FCC laws on the basis of Indigenous sovereignty. As a result, residents of Sandoval County in New Mexico (home to seven Native American Pueblos, three Navajo Chapters and an Apache reservation) will soon have greater bandwidth coming into their homes than people in the cities with a cable connection. Adding a whole new dimension to the phrase “Backing Indigenous Ability,” Hendricks’s smart radio devices can stretch up to 30 miles across the New Mexican terrain with a two-foot dish using UHF spectrum. So far, the FCC has not tried to stop him or the county from using the spectrum. In fact, Hendricks has a seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Technology Advisory Council.
More technologies (and cowboys/girls) are likely to emerge in a spectrum commons. Opening up spectrum for experimentation is the first step. As Lawrence Lessig suggests in The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World (Random House, 2001) innovation is best stimulated via technologies that allow for widespread participation in their own design. Keeping the barriers to creativity low encourages people to design, develop and extend existing technologies. The argument for unlicensed access to UHF spectrum is therefore more than a matter of equity (the classic “digital divide” argument); it is central to the cultivation of new technologies in the post-industrial economy.
Groups at the forefront of community media are also considering a licence-free future. Prometheus Radio in the US began as an advocacy and training group for illegal “microradio” stations. In 2000 they succeeded in convincing the FCC and Congress to create a new class of radio licences, Low Power FM (LPFM), reinvigorating America’s community radio landscape along the way. Prometheus, however, have also continued to challenge the property model of spectrum access which has marginalised community-based media over the past century. They hope that LPFM will be replaced (or complemented) by more of a commons-style, open spectrum regime – something closer to the premise and practices of community media:
“If it were possible for the public to directly access the airwaves,” they write, “without having to negotiate with an intermediary – the FCC or one of its sanctioned industry kingpins – then perhaps it would be possible to expand vital community media services to all communities. It may even be possible for community-based communications providers, and home-grown communications tools built in-house by organizations who need them, to grow and thrive to spring up and build out on an as-needed basis.”
Such a future is still very far off. The biggest obstacle remains the commercial broadcasting industry. As long as over-the-air broadcasting has a viable business model, commercial broadcasters are likely to resist any attempt to liberate the airwaves. The advocacy group Open Spectrum UK, which has the weight of former BT Chief Technologist Peter Cochrane behind it, has been focusing its efforts on liberating spectrum after analogue switch off. Robert Horwitz, of Open Spectrum International, writes that “opening a licensed band to shared use by unlicensed devices is easier than completely clearing a band of licensed users. So if you think of Open Spectrum as something that can be introduced gradually, this is an important option.” In February, the FCC reiterated its preference to open up so-called white spaces in the broadcast band to unlicensed advanced wireless devices. So far, this doesn’t mean much; we are likely to see long-range baby monitors before any radical change in the communications landscape. But baby steps may one day get us there. •
Monday, May 21, 2007
Last Updated: Sunday, 20 May 2007, 16:02 GMT 17:02
Wi-Fi: a warning signal
Britain is in the grip of a Wi-Fi revolution with offices, homes and classrooms going wireless - but there is concern the technology could carry health risks.
The Government insists Wi-Fi is safe, but a Panorama investigation shows that radio frequency radiation levels in some schools are up to three times the level found in the main beam of intensity from mobile phone masts.
Schools wi-fi health warning
Schools should be careful about installing wireless internet technology, according to a leading government advisor. Panorama: Wi-fi - A Warning Signal will be shown on BBC One at 20:30BST on 21 May.
Child warning over mobile phones
Parents should ensure their children use mobile phones only when absolutely necessary because of the potential health risks, an expert is warning.
The latest study by Sir William Stewart says there is still no proof mobile phones are unsafe, but warns precautionary steps should be taken.
Wi-Fi: Children at risk from 'electronic smog'
::: Revealed - radiation threat from new wireless computer networks
::: Teachers demand inquiry to protect a generation of pupils
By Geoffrey Lean, environment editor
Published: 22 April 2007
Britain's top health protection watchdog is pressing for a formal investigation into the hazards of using wireless communication networks in schools amid mounting concern that they may be damaging children's health, 'The Independent on Sunday' can reveal.
Sir William Stewart, the chairman of the Health Protection Agency, wants pupils to be monitored for ill effects from the networks - known as Wi-Fi - which emit radiation and are being installed in classrooms across the nation.(...)
From The Times
November 25, 2006
News in Brief
A Labour MP and distinguished cancer specialist called for a government inquiry into the potential health risks of wireless computer networks after The Times revealed that some schools were dismantling their equipment amid fears that it could be dangerous (Joanna Bale writes).
Ian Gibson, a former chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, said: “We need a departmental inquiry into this situation. The Department of Health should be looking into it seriously. What we really need is another inquiry like the Stewart report into mobile phone masts.”
Dr Gibson is an honorary Professor and former Dean of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia.
An Open Letter to Sir William Stewart of the Health Protection Agency by Guy J Kewney | posted on 24 April 2007
Professor Sir William Stewart Appointed Chairman of Cyclacel
DUNDEE - 23 September 1998 - Cyclacel, the cancer therapeutics company, announced today the appointment of Professor Sir William Stewart, FRS, FRSE, as Non-Executive Chairman. Sir William was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and the UK Government from 1990 to 1995. He is President of the BioIndustry Association, the UK biotechnology industry trade group, and Chairman of Dundee Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. He is a member of the Corporate Technology Board of SmithKline Beecham plc and a non-executive Director of the Water Research Centre plc. Sir William was a former Vice President of the Royal Society and was a member of the Scottish Committee of the Dearing Inquiry into Higher Education. He is currently an independent consultant on science, education and the environment.(...)
Further: google wifi william stewart here
Scientists reject Panorama's claims on Wi-Fi radiation risks
· Laptop and phone mast comparison is criticised
· Programme spokesman defends methodology
James Randerson, science correspondent
Monday May 21, 2007
An investigation into the possible dangers of Wi-Fi technology - wireless computer networks - by the BBC documentary programme Panorama has been rejected as "grossly unscientific" and a "scare story" by leading scientists. The programme will claim that the radiation given off by a Wi-Fi laptop is "three times higher than the ... signal strength of a typical phone mast". But the experiment carried out by the programme did not take into account a "basic" scientific concept and presented a bogus comparison, critics say.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Senior editor, CNET Reviews
May 11, 2007
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the seeds of the nation's largest identity theft operation involving customers of TJX Companies (owners of TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and other discount stores) began in the parking lot outside a Marshalls discount clothing store in St. Paul, Minnesota. Criminal hackers, using a directional antenna, sat in their car and eavesdropped on wireless communications within the store. Over an unspecified period of time, the thieves were able to capture everything from the use of wireless handheld price-checking devices to wireless cash register transactions. But it was the wireless network for the store's main computers that ultimately allowed the criminal hackers into TJX. Once inside that network they were able to download millions of credit card numbers, some which have shown up on carder networks in eight different countries.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Intel's Centrino mobile platform has just gone next-gen. The first laptops with Intel's brand-new Centrino Duo and Centrino Pro (code-named Santa Rosa) mobile platform were released into the wild this week, and our editors like what they're seeing so far. Confused about what Santa Rosa actually is? It's actually a combination of things: Core 2 Duo processors, a new motherboard chipset, and Draft N wireless cards. All this adds up to a nice mobile Web experience and a better battery life. Michelle Thatcher has the nitty-gritty on Santa Rosa, and Dan Ackerman rounds up the very first Santa Rosa laptops.
Faster wireless. | Many people (cough) thought Santa Rosa would include support for 3G and WiMax connections. But the only enhancements to wireless on the new Centrino Duo and Centrino Pro notebooks is support for 802.11n networking. Of course, taking advantage of the faster speeds and better range of 802.11n will require you to purchase a Draft N router--a tricky proposition, considering the official 802.11n spec has yet to be finalized.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
April 30, 2007
Social Networking Leaves Confines of the Computer
By BRAD STONE and MATT RICHTEL
SAN FRANCISCO, April 29 — While Walter Zai was in South Africa
watching the wild animals recently, people around the world were
Mr. Zai, a 37-year-old Swiss engineer, used his mobile phone to send
out constant updates and images from his safari for an online audience.
“You feel like you are instantly broadcasting your own life and
experiences to your friends at home, and to anyone in the world who
wants to join,” said Mr. Zai, who used a new online service called
Kyte to create his digital diary.
The social networking phenomenon is leaving the confines of the
personal computer. Powerful new mobile devices are allowing people to
send round-the-clock updates about their vacations, their moods or
their latest haircut.
New online services, with names like Twitter, Radar and Jaiku, hope
people will use their ever-present gadget to share (or, inevitably,
to overshare) the details of their lives in the same way they have
become accustomed to doing on Web sites like MySpace.
Unlike the older networking sites, which are still largely used on
PCs, these new phone-oriented services are bringing the burgeoning
culture of exhibitionism to more exotic and more personal locations.
They are also contributing to the general barrage of white noise and
information overload — something that even some participants say they
feel ambivalent about.
(...) sees each of the world’s hundreds of millions of camera-phone owners as a potential television
“To run a television network used to require expensive cameras, a
satellite connection and studios,” Mr. Graf said. “But the production
costs have gone down to zero. Now you can share your life over a
mobile phone, and someone is always connected, watching.”
Keep your wireless networks safe
Wireless networks are becoming more and more common. Sometimes called Wi-Fi or 802.11 (after the standards which define how it works), they allow computers to connect to one another without cables. Using radio technology similar to cordless phones, they make it incredibly easy to connect to company networks, email and the internet. Unfortunately, they also make it very easy for outsiders to do the same. (...)
The Future of Wireless
Cheap or Free Connections -- Which Will Win?
April 30, 2007
Wall Street Journal
Not so long ago, Wi-Fi was a home project for tech geeks with a high tolerance for fiddling with router settings and WEP encryption. Today, wireless Internet access is regarded as practically a digerati birthright. Finding yourself in an airport or hotel without free wireless access is as odd and unwelcome as finding out your rental car doesn't have a CD player. (Wait a year or two, and you'll be able to substitute "satellite radio" or "iPod jack" for "CD player.")
Wireless access is available in more and more places -- but there's no rhyme or reason to how you get it.
Airports and hotels offer Wi-Fi for free. So do cafes, fast-food places, bookstores and other businesses hoping to make some money off people camping on the premises while they access the Net. Starbucks and McDonald's are wireless front ends for T-Mobile and Wayport, which offer a range of plans for hourly, daily or monthly wireless access anywhere a network hot spot can be found -- a strategy also followed by Boingo Wireless. And then some 300 cities and towns are at various stages in offering cheap or free wireless access.
And, of course, there's just letting your wireless card hunt for a signal leaking out of your neighbor's home -- this weekend my wireless utility found five such networks. Three were unsecured; two were obviously the default network name that came with the router. I imagine that's fairly typical for a block of apartment buildings in brownstone Brooklyn. Hopping on your neighbor's signal is variously described as "leeching," "piggybacking," "borrowing a signal," or "daily life," and opinions about it cover a range that you can guess at from those terms. (My own network is open, but the SSID isn't broadcast -- a combination that reflects early tech woes and the fact that I've never made my mind up about what I ought to do.)
It all adds up to a patchwork of approaches, and one should be cautious about making definitive predictions about how all this tumult will shake out. But the general direction is clear.
Take last week's deal between Spain's Fon (pronounced "fonn") and Time Warner Cable (pronounced "Time Warner Cable").
Fon sells wireless routers (called La Foneras) that let its members (Foneros) split their Wi-Fi connection into an encrypted channel for their own personal use and a public channel for the use of passers-by, creating a network of public wireless hotspots. Fon divides Foneros into three types: A Linus shares his or her access and in return can log onto any Fon hotspot free of charge; an Alien doesn't share access and can get 24 hours of access to the Fon network for $2 or $3; and a Bill shares his or her access and skips free log-on rights in exchange for half the money Fon collects from Aliens using that Bill's Wi-Fi connection. Fon's clever: It offers options for regular, on-the-go Internet users and businesses looking to make a little money from Wi-Fi, then throws some social-networking whimsy into the mix. (With a dash of marketing -- note that Fon's definition of "Alien" makes the entire world Foneros.) That said, the idea isn't one that makes you automatically think the world's rearranging itself. For one thing, U.S. ISPs' position on sharing an Internet connection wirelessly has been clear: It's stealing. From those ISPs' perspective, Fon must seem a hair too close to the dark side of social networking -- an interesting business model predicated on your customers stealing your product and handing it out to others.
Except Time Warner Cable has now given its 6.6 million home broadband customers its blessing to become Foneros and thus share their bandwidth.
While a Time Warner spokeswoman declined to offer much in the way of specifics about the deal, Fon USA CEO Joanna Rees says one benefit to Time Warner is that "with Fon you can't leech … nobody talks about what the leeching numbers are, but they're significant."
Dana Spiegel, executive director of NYCwireless, is skeptical of the deal's impact, seeing it as little more than a public-relations move for both companies. Fon's network, he says, is "to be perfectly blunt, tiny" and predominantly residential, making it not particularly valuable in public places. Ms. Rees says Fon has 60,000 Foneros in the U.S., though she acknowledges that Fon may not have the visibility of, say, T-Mobile with its Starbucks locations. While she maintains Fon's footprint will be more effective over the long term, "over the short term we have to be strategic." An example of that strategy: a "Fonbucks" campaign in which Fon has given away free La Foneras to people living near coffee shops.
Mr. Spiegel calls Time Warner Cable's deal with Fon "a parasitic billing system … I'm paying the same amount of money for less service and Time Warner Cable is getting more money from what I've already paid for." His volunteer group's members create free hot spots in New York City parks and public spaces and help bring free wireless Net access to underserved communities. In his view, NYCwireless's approach is better: "Instead of taking a reduction in my value and handing it back to Time Warner, I'm taking that value and spreading it out among my local community."
Then there are efforts by cities and towns to offer cheap or free Wi-Fi. The most celebrated such efforts are taking shape in Philadelphia and San Francisco, but many other cities and towns are pursuing that goal, motivated by a desire to bridge the "digital divide" between rich and poor and eagerness to bill themselves as tech-friendly.
One thing Mr. Spiegel and Ms. Rees seem to agree on: It's too simplistic to see muni Wi-Fi as a threat to the aspirations of big ISPs and other wireless providers. Rather, muni Wi-Fi is likely to be complementary to such efforts. "What municipal offerings do is raise the baseline," Mr. Spiegel says, contending that such services will primarily convert those left behind today. "Today's baseline is dial-up. When municipal networks roll out, you'll see a move from dial-up" up to a new baseline.
Established ISPs aren't sitting still, either -- they know perfectly well that the key problem with wireless today is you can't take your access with you, leaving on-the-go surfers to place their bets on which approach will yield the best coverage: an established network such as T-Mobile's, the spread of free hot spots, efforts by cities and towns, reciprocal networks such as Fon's, or the deployment of new technologies, such as the much-hyped WiMax, that could supplant Wi-Fi with much longer ranges and greater speeds.
Which will win? My guess is all of the above, and they'll be such overlap between the various flavors of wireless access that we'll largely stop thinking about it. Wireless will become something akin to cellular service, taken largely for granted with a bit of behind-the-scenes technological help. We'll spend most of our time hooked into our home network or other networks our ISP's struck interoperability deals with. Should such a network not be available, our devices will seek out free signals, or tell us additional access fees will apply.
What will we pay? That depends. Most of us, I bet, will pay about what we pay today, but we'll get much higher download and upload speeds. But those of us who either don't want or don't need such bells and whistles will do just fine with free access provided by cities -- or ad-supported access from businesses.
"When first introduced, [air-conditioning] was a luxury item," Mr. Spiegel notes. "Stores that installed it saw a benefit. As it became more available, more and more stores added it and it became more of a cost of doing business."
So it will be with wireless. And as with air-conditioning, we'll be startled to find ourselves going without now and again. We'll even feel nostalgic about it.