Every time I write about Wi-Fi, and in particular about free access, I get a tsunami of protest from individuals in European companies, organisations and universities. On occasions I even get (perversely) semi-threatening emails from people in IT and security departments.
Without exception there are predictions with variations on the theme of total disaster involving security violations, illegal use, bandwidth hogging, getting arrested for byte theft etc. There are also lots of complaints that reflect a distinct lack of community spirit including the 'why should I let anyone use something that I am paying for' brigade. All very exclusive, limited and European, I'm afraid!
This morning I was having an early breakfast at a small mom and pop coffee shop in Woods Hole on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. This is just about as 'end of the line' as you can get in the US. And guess what? There are two free Wi-Fi services available. One is provided by the coffee shop, and I have no idea where the other one is coming from. Of the 15 people having breakfast there are seven online clearing their early morning email, checking the latest news and watching TV. No one seems to be engaged in illegal activities, the owner isn't on the edge of his seat with worry - people are just doing what needs to be done.
It is now late evening and the coffee shop has closed but the lights and Wi-Fi are still on. So I'm sat out front with a couple of students using the free internet access, totally unsubsidised by coffee and cookies! Walking down this street for a few metres earlier this evening I discovered several Wi-Fi signals that also looked to be free. But I didn't log on as they weren't providing light and coffee too.
In Europe this would be an exceptional story but here it is the norm! But hey, just before I left home (in the UK) a global hotel chain mailed to let me know that they are providing free Wi-Fi worldwide at all their sites - including those in the EU.
Hurray for common sense. Soon perhaps other hotels, coffee shops and universities will get IT too!
Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.