Should Wifi Be Free Everywhere (and Should Government Pay For It?)

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This topic contains 43 replies, has 28 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew Krzmarzick 9 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #142792

    How often do you find yourself sitting in an airport or city center and wish there was free wifi?

    Well, I was just browsing at and discovered a couple recent polls that pose important questions for government around this common problem.

    I could see the value of having municipalities pay for wifi, casting a net over an entire geographic area (including local airports and other key public locations). Imagine multiple cities or counties combining resources to share the cost. In terms of bridging the digital divide, this approach would facilitate access to a broader number of citizens as well.

    What do you think?

    1 – Does your local government pay for wifi access?

    2 – Should they?

    3 – What alternatives would you propose?

  • #142878

    I just did a quick Google search on “Do any cities have free wifi access?” and it turns out the idea has been explored…and failed. Here’s the crux of previous failed attempts in Chicago, St. Louis, Houston and San Francisco:

    The problem is that cities haven’t thought of the Internet as a form of public infrastructure that—like subway lines, sewers, or roads—must be paid for. Instead, cities have labored under the illusion that, somehow, everything could be built easily and for free by private parties. That illusion has run straight into the ancient economics of infrastructure and natural monopoly. The bottom line: City dwellers won’t be able to get high-quality wireless Internet access for free. If they want it, collectively, they’ll have to pay for it.

  • #142876

    Stephen Peteritas
    In an ideal world wifi would be free or a government provided service but I think in these austere times especially for local gov’t it’s incredibly naive to think that they should be able to provide such service without raising local taxes. Also wifi would fall into the same category of things we tax for but not everyone uses and there are already quite a bit of those things.
  • #142874

    Pam Broviak

    The other side of it is that cities might be willing to put it in, but they have to go up against the fight they will get with private providers who are worried about losing customers.

    From what I was told (definitely not speaking on behalf of my employer and only relaying the “stories” I heard), the city I work for tried several years ago to set up infrastructure to provide wifi to the citizens. We had the framework for it already in place, and our crews are trained to support and maintain it. (We already provide this service for government and schools.) Unfortunately, AT&T and Comcast launched a huge smear campaign against the city scaring residents by saying things like “do you really want government listening in on your conversations and watching what you do.” This forced it to a vote, and the citizens turned it down. Unfortunately because this was so many years ago, I think people did not yet understand the whole wifi – Internet thing. Now, I think it would have definitely passed, but after such a horrible experience, I don’t think the city would go there again.

  • #142872

    Jason Schaufele

    Free WiFi, funded by tax dollars is a disaster waiting to happen. Think about it. How do people currently use the internet? You have casual browser users who read email and social media sites. Then you have heavy users who stream video, audio, and porn. If it was wide open and free, it would be dodge city with everybody competing for the same pipe. Since there is no such thing as infinite band width, you would eventually have a saturated pipe. To deal with this, rules or policies for usage would need to be developed as well as enforcement methods. Some of the enforcement methods would be automated, like porn filters, and some would need a human to implement. When this happens, the FREE WiFi will start costing the providers more money. Somebody has to pay for it! Let’s also not forget that when you start filtering content and blocking sites, people are going to cry foul. And before long the ACLU is going to have municipality in court arguing about free and fair access.

    I like free stuff. But unfiortunately in this case, pay as you go is a better working model.

  • #142870

    Dan Herlt

    If you want to use something – pay for it yourself. What is this idea that we should get things for “free” and someone else should pay for it? Points to an immature populace.

    I don’t expect someone else to pay for my phone, utilities, car, etc. Why should they pay for my email, gaming, or banking access?

  • #142868

    Keith Collier

    Thank you Dan. Starting to think I was the one going crazy. This whole free entitlement thing in this country is going to kill us all. If you want something, then work for it, I should not have to pay for somebody else’s enjoyment. We need to stop looking for hand-outs and helping with hand-ups.

  • #142866

    Doug Taylor

    1 – Does your local government pay for wifi access?

    In one park adjacent to City Hall. The City subsidizes the library and public schools which provide free Internet access and computers.

    2 – Should they?

    Perhaps, in public parks and recreational facilities, but with time and bandwidth limitations.

    3 – What alternatives would you propose?

    Possibly offer free WiFi and charge for Broadband Internet to the home like Chattanooga, TN, has. Depends on the laws and competing with corporations.

  • #142864

    Robert Martin

    I don’t think that the government should provide free wifi. However, I think that in some locations there could be a service that you can purchase from the government that is used to maintain the service and perhaps support other underfunded services like education. Locally we have a board that oversees the local cable service with internet. They offer the lowest price and fastest speeds in town. So basically, there is a tax (fee), for those who user the service that is self-sustaining. As others have said, and I agree, the pay as you go model makes sense here.

    I would like, however, to have my wifi and home internet on one account with one fee. I would be nice if I could roam with my smart phone, with internet, then go to my home pc and get access to the same high speed access without have to paying two account. FYI where I live, I have DSL but not 4G.

  • #142862

    Stacy Rapp

    No my local government does not pay for it. I wish they would because I think that would be great if we could get a fabulous bargain collectively. However, what if the US government decides sure we’ll pay for it. How does that work for the corporations that supply it ? I think that would be the biggest conflict. It’s not like the water company where the city owns and operates it. There is open competition so who gets the bid for that, the best quality or the cheapest available? Who makes that decision? Business savvy people want the better quality but maybe the majority would accept poorer quality just to have it as opposed to going to the library, etc.

    I do think it is far more managable for a local community like an HOA to provide this service. However, you would then run into the hacker problems because you are possibly sharing an unsecure network. We’ve discussed this with our neighbors before, just because we could operate off of the same router and trust one another on a shared password type thing. When you break it down into half price it certainly makes the cost sweeter :0)

  • #142860

    Jack Shaw

    Add Philadelphia to your list of failed attempts at Free WiFi in the city. I have to say though more and more business are doing it. And that’s a help. The subject of who pays for it. Some airlines make you pay for it already; I can see local business doing the same, and I’m sure some are doing it now. Besides the obvious Internet cafes. If cities and local governments, state and federal governments make it universally available, doesn’t that make every connection also vulnerable. Are we opening ourselves to greater hacking possibilities as well as cyber attacks?

  • #142858

    Kevin Lanahan

    I think blanketing a city with wifi coverage would be a disaster, for reasons people gave below, but having free wifi in airports, rail stations, public buildings and tourist destinations would be welcoming and useful for travelers. Municipalities do not have to give high speed unfettered access, but enough to let a tourist get a map, scan a QR code or find restaurants/places to visit nearby.

  • #142856

    Colby Hoefar

    I think individual users need to pay. State, local and even our beloved Federal Governments are broke and cannot pay for what is on their plates today. Americans are so accustomed to the all you can eat buffet line for under $10 bucks that we expect it to translate to all of these other entitlements. Why not ease the policies and regulations to create an attractive opportunity for industry and the private sector to invest in the infrastructure where individuals will subscribe for the services.

  • #142854

    Paul Homan

    In some airports the wifi is free (PDX). JetBlue also offers free wifi in their terminals. But I agree it would be more convenient if more airports offered free wifi, because it just doesn’t seem worth it to pay 7.95 for internet – that may or may not work for the 45 minutes that you are in the airport. Also, I think there should be more electrical outlets readily available.

  • #142852

    Denise Petet

    Part of me says yes. I’m a person that has an iPad and iPod Touch, so I didn’t get a smart phone this last time because, really, how plugged in do i need to be? I’m not a person who places a ton of importance on checking my e-mail at a whim or things like that. (and I wasn’t going to pay $70 a month just to do that.)

    That said, there have been times when I’d love to look things up – like maps or info – and can’t because there’s not wifi. So I see the value. I see the value in being able to comparison shop at a moment’s notice (although with more and more stores refusing to match online prices that’s becoming less important). I see the value in checking a store’s hours or inventory online as you shop.

    However, I do think the idea as a whole will go nowhere.

    And it won’t just be because of who will pay for it and spend the billions for the infrastructure and to administer it.

    What it’ll boil down to is Sprint and Verizon and AT&T and other cell phone companies will lobby themselves to pieces to keep it from happening on any large scale because they make billions on data plans. And any sort of widespread free wifi will threaten that profit, and they won’t allow that to happen any more than the insurance companies/hospitals/pharmaceuticals would allow national health care. Nothing must threaten their profit margin.

    The wireless companies will lobby about illegal activity, such as porn or illegal file sharing. They’ll scare people to death about viruses and malware. They’ll use the threat of illegal sites to scare people, then have a different lobbyist attack the govt if they respond with ‘we’ll just block them’. They’ll make it a first amendment case or a freedom of religion case (such as if the issue of ‘do we leave al queda sites up on our govt paid free wifi?’) The wireless companies will spend billions to keep it from happening, at least happening in a way they can’t profit from.

    I think the only way it’ll happen is when the wireless companies decide to do it. They can blast cities with low speed ‘free’ wifi, likely ad driven with subscription plans available for users to subscribe, which gets them no ads and a faster speed. They will, in essence, use the initiative to drive everyone possible to get a smart phone.

  • #142850

    Allison Primack

    According to the poll posted on GovLoop’s Facebook, 23 out of the 26 people who voted believe that free wifi should be available in every major city and in airports.

    I agree it would be nice to have wifi everywhere, but to be honest I don’t know how much I would use it. I prefer to use the 3G on my phone because wifi sucks up all of my battery, and everywhere I bring my laptop (school, work, home) has wifi anyways.

  • #142848

    Domenico Camplisson

    The question includes the contradiction. If it were :”free” no one should pay for it. I cannot think of any reason govt should pay for WiFi.

  • #142846

    So the majority of folks are saying that individuals should pay…but could we at least get it subsidized by local government. $70 for Internet access (as part of a bundle package!) is ridiculous.

  • #142844

    Dan Herlt

    Where does that money come from? Us.
    There is no free money.

    And is it really the job of local government to subsidize our telecom desires?

  • #142842

    Benjamin Strong

    There are two questions here.

    1. Should wifi be everywhere (and free)?

    Yes, wifi should be like air and it shouldn’t cost the consumer anything to use it. There should be limits put on it, perhaps throttling if users start to download movies or access torrent sites. But basic wireless internet access should be free in public places.

    2. Should government pay for it?

    No, it should be paid for by other groups. Perhaps business districts (like the Downtown Alliance in Manhattan) could pay for it. Search data and other information could be mined, and users could be fed advertising tailored to their use. This gives business some return on investment. Location based features could also help drive wifi users to various businesses.

  • #142840

    Toni Middleton

    The City of Minneapolis MN has free wifi. Here’s a map of wifi hotspots:

    And here is the Q & A about the program:

  • #142838

    My point of view is really close to Doug Taylo. I just want to add oune tought: Internet is a right for all citizens, since today is the gateway to many services and opportunities.It is an obligation for the administration to guarantee access to the internet, in basic terms ( I mean at reasonable bandwidth) to offer equal opportunities of personal and social development, to all citizens.

    My town, Albal – Valencia – Spain, has 17.000 people, and we offer free access ( with some restrictions about dowloads, porn and so on ) in 5 public areas.It is just the begining.

    P.S.:I apologize for my poor english.

  • #142836

    David Fletcher

    Pam is exactly right. Large, influential companies that pay a lot of taxes don’t always like government competing with them and wield a lot of influence with city councils and state legislatures.

  • #142834

    Stacy Rapp

    I think that’s a really good point about why to offer it for free to tourists. Our airport, Denver International, offers free WiFi and I figured it was just because we probably have the most stranded passengers (just kidding :-)).

  • #142832

    Stacy Rapp

    Fly Southwest :0) They are good about having seating with plug ins. In fact, even if I am flying another airline in the same terminal as Southwest I will sit in their seats and use their plugs. Much more comfy.

  • #142830

    Steve Radick

    I do think everyone should have access to the Internet and there should be Wi-Fi everywhere, although I don’t think government should be paying for it. I think the current companies just need to change their model. Wi-Fi shouldn’t be tied to the device – it should be tied to the person. I should be able to have one log-in that I use whether I’m in Boston, DC, or LA, whether I’m using an iPad, my phone or a laptop. I can’t stand that to get Wi-Fi, I have to pay for a monthly plan with one provider for each device I have. That should be the future of Wi-Fi. (at least in my world :))

  • #142828

    Denise Petet

    So…..the equivalent of a USB or aircard that you pay for and carry around and that you can plug into any computer to get that computer on the net via the account that you own.

    EIther that or every computer out there is connected to the net but to go anywhere past the logon screen, you’d type in a username and password tied to your account.

  • #142826

    Peter Sperry

    Isn’t the basic question more properly phrased as:

    “Should (insert current popular desire) Be Free Everywhere (and Should our neighbors be forced to work longer hours to Pay For It?)?

    Goods and services are not free. Someone, somewhere has to install, operate and repair equipment. They expect to get paid for their efforts. So does the equipment manufacturer. Whether government, a business district, a corporation or whoever, pays these bills, they will need to either reduce services somewhere else, raise taxes, charge a fee or pass the costs on to other customers.

    As much as possible we should all pay for the goods and services we consume with the fruits of our own labor and only ask (not demand) others to lend (not give) us the fruits of their labor when we have no other alternative.

    I will not ask the government to increase your taxes to pay for my wifi. I will resist efforts to increase my taxes to pay for yours.

  • #142824

    Stacy Rapp

    The more I read of other thoughts on this, the more I re-think this. It seems like many people think the government just shouldn’t pay because we are consumers consuming so we should be paying, etc. I have no idea how you could make it work effectively without creating a monopoly so I’m not exactly arguing for it.

    However, I think this is a good topic to compare to a local library. A library is a free service providing educational opportunities, primarily for people who may not be able to afford it otherwise. I love the library and could afford to buy a book, however, it’s a great way for me to use a book for a short time and return it so that someone else can use that book. Collectively, I think that a library provides alot for a community. That brings me to the Internet. Is the Internet not one huge library of data for sharing?

    I personally think we should have libraries and I could definately see how someone could argue that this is a need similar to that of a library. As a percentage, how many people would not want the Internet? How many people currently do not have Internet because they can’t afford it or it’s outside of their service area, but they now could…and could it still be cheaper for everyone as a tax verses a payment to Comcast? Based off of economies of scale, could the cities and communities negotiate a cheaper rate per person as a tax verses a monthly bill?

  • #142822

    Dan Herlt

    In reference to the library, you have to consider the time frame where libraries came from. when they were created books were hard to come by and expensive, so a system of sharing

  • #142820

    Stacy Rapp

    So are you saying that the idea of a library is relatively obsolete? You could probably argue that fairly easily, but then you would run into the reason for why the library idea is obsolete….The Internet and the vast amount of information available online. Many people would say that their Internet bill is ridiculously high, maybe similar to buying a book back in the day. So, is it important for a country or a city or whatever to decide that there is an educational value in providing this resource for everyone, similar to providing a library for everyone.

  • #142818

    Dan Herlt

    I think part of my post was cut off.

    The Internet doesn’t equate to a library for several reasons. It is a service that is provided to make a profit for the companies and workers, not a non profit.

    Libraries have content control, the Internet is full of more disinformation than fact.

    Libraries lend physical property that would be imposible for each individual to own or house themselves.

    There are alternate means to acheive free Internet access (stores, cafes, etc).

    The reason want someone else to pay for it is so they can use or overuse beyond their means to pay for a product.

    Why not pay for peoples’ gas too? Or food?

  • #142816

    Peter Sperry

    “Why not pay for peoples’ gas too? Or food?”

    Government does in fact pay for both through foodstamps and transportations subisidies for low income families. And it is appropriate to do so for individuals who have exahausted all other means of providing for their own needs. It might even be appropriate, as an education initiative, to provide internet access vouchers for low income students. It is not appropriate to just provide the service for free regardless of need.

  • #142814

    Denise Petet

    I think it can boil down to defining the net and access to it as a ‘need’ or a ‘want’.

    Right now it seems to be a little of each. However, in the future as more and more agencies go into online registration, taxes, etc, having net access may move to being a ‘need’.

    And accommodations will need to be made for those that cannot access it on their own.

  • #142812

    Pam Broviak

    If we look back over history, we can see that every time a utility was created/invented, a decision had to be made to provide it through public or private ownership. For many things, public ownership was the choice of the majority such as for roads, water, sewer, etc. However, for others, there was a split such as for electricity with some being publicly and some privately owned. And finally some utilities became primarily privately owned such as gas, phone, cable, cell. WiFi is really just another utility. And of course, payment for any service – public or private – is required to be paid by someone. As someone described above, usually each user has a different demand and because of this pays based on their usage. (Although a small number of cities still change flat fees for some utilities like water regardless of usage.)

    And now it appears we are in the decision mode of which way ownership will lean for wifi. The private companies know this – they’ve been through it before because many own other utilities. So they are fighting like crazy to make sure it does not go public. It’s actually interesting to watch the process unfold because we are seeing what those who came before us had to go through to integrate gas/water/sewer etc into our communities. The main difference is that the utilities today seem to have more money and media to push their position. Unfortunately the right way to make the decision is to look at the benefits/costs/risks/consequences.

    Government or public ownership of a utility can be necessary or desirable for several reasons such as security, reliability, scale, cost or other issues that only government can guarantee. And if we allow utilities that are essential for our country to become privately owned, we can no longer allow their operation to be determined by the market – too risky. So we end up heavily regulating it. Eventually this seems to lead to a monopoly where these businesses rely on politicians to pass laws that ensure their profit. Obviously I am oversimplifying, but basically it seems to end up a complicated, messy business. And in the end, as with most things like this – no easy answers.

  • #142810

    Michael Whaley

    I like this line of thought. I work for a large county-operated library system, and my branch is located in a city (Hollywood, FL) where the city provides free wifi. The library provides many services also available in the for-profit world, and you can get internet in Hollywood from all the usual for-profit providers. Hollywood was able to provide the free wifi by piggybacking on their existing municipal systems for city employees (like fire and rescue, building inspectors, etc). I have friends who buy books and other media, even though they are available for free from the library. Likewise, I’m sure lots of people in Hollywood pay for internet and wifi to get features the city doesn’t provide (unfiltered access, faster connection). Having both a public and a private option works well for us as a library, and I think it’s the best option for wifi as well.

  • #142808

    Stacy Rapp

    That’s very interesting. I could see how that would work simply because, to some degree, it’s something already being offered. I wouldn’t be surprised if it would work better to offer it through the library then say the city of Philly or whatever. If I go to about any library in the world, I can tap into their Internet system. As a taxpayer in my city/county, I am already paying for the service essentially but cannot access it from anywhere. However, if I lived in a house close enough to the library I wouldn’t have to buy it at my house and there would be no laws broken to receive this free service (at least I don’t think I’d be breaking the law).

  • #142806

    Jack Shaw

    Be careful what you wish for.

    Working on a novel right now–today–on what happens when society decides to let the devices make the decisions for them. In “my” world, you could say Wi-Fi is everywhere and no one pays. It is the way the government is able to control everyone’s lives–including who you are able to “connect” with and have a relationship. The government doesn’t just pay for it but makes it mandatory, and the device is planted in your head.

    Now, I’m smiling because I know it sounds like a cautionary tale, but I guess it is. It is the point of the science fiction novel that this kind of control has a “honeymoon” plan where it benefits everyone, then gets nasty as the program takes more and more freedoms away. In the long term it behooves us to not always get what we wish for.

    For the moment, we have internet at home and on our cell phones for the family. Next to our combined utility bill and mortgage, our next biggest bill is for our phones for which we pay a premium to have internet on them. Sprint has decided that premium service price is going to end. So much for customer loyalty as they raise prices. It’s our fault because we demand so much in the way of new products. Please detect sarcasm.

    What would happen if we were to get free W–Fi? We’d have to pay more for the products, no doubt. Should the government pay for free Wi-Fi? In some communities it might be a good thing; in others, not so much. So I’d say local is fine if that’s what the people want. There will always be some who don’t want it but have to go along with the vote. Just remember whoever provides the service has control, and do we want to give them that control?

    Finally, if the government wants to make Wi-Fi free and available to its employees, it is saying it’s okay to surf the net while at work. Not going to happen.

  • #142804

    Jon P. Bird

    There is no such thing as “free” WiFi. You may not have to fork out $$ at Starbucks or the local library, but you’re paying for the service either through what the lack of security will cost you down the road or through hidden taxes and passalong costs.

  • #142802

    Steve Ressler

    I feel like free wifi in airports is essential these days. It really affects people’s perception of the airport.

    The question is who should pay for it – I would argue that it should be a public/private partnership. Perhaps the airport authority can afford it by themselves in the same way they pay for bathrooms, rocking chairs, etc. Another option is perhaps it is free but with sponsors – they have a captive important audience at airports and I’m sure people would pay for advertising.

  • #142800

    Stacy Rapp

    You must fly in and out of Charlotte. I only know of one airport providing rocking chairs as a notable mention :0) Maybe there’s somewhere else, but that comment just made me smile thinking about that airport experience.

  • #142798

    Henry Brown

    First NOTHING is free…

    Then it gets down to who should pay for it…

    most hotels provide wifi access, and I would offer that it is included in the room rate, Still seeing some up-scale chains breaking out the charge but most don’t.

    NOT a big fan of flying but would offer that wifi access could/should be included in what the airlines pay the airport to use the facility.

    Metro governments have tried to provide wi-fi access. Was involved in the San Francisco, Houston, and Huntsville’s service. Houston and San Fran failed because it was NOT cost effective to provide every citizen with wifi access.

    The numbers for San Fran were at the peak of usage there was something like 125,000 users of which well over 50,000 users were NOT residences of San Fran at a cost of some 3 Million dollars a year.

    It failed rather early in the Houston expirement because of the cost of providing reasonable access in over 550 square miles of area. not to mention attempting to provide access to well over 1.5 Million “customers”

    Huntsville Al has succeded rather well, IMO, because they limited the Access Points to 3 and because the logon process required some validation of Huntsville residency and because of some limits placed on connection time. (small aside: the WAP’s were among the very first places in Huntsville which had Power restored after the April 27 tornadoes and the area was packed with people for 3 days until TVA was able to restore power to most of Huntsville)

    In all 3 cases, and even in the hotels/airports security has got to be an issue, and since wifi is NOT free someone has to pay for that. And as with most security issues, security is the first thing to go to cut costs.

    Even today when I travel I do not use the “free” wifi unless it is absolutly necessary and then NEVER for issues that could put my data at risk.

    I like the model that several cities have deployed for internet access through a pay as you go plan. Would offer that in the two cases that I am somewhat familiar with (Salem MA and Knoxville TN) the access wasis subsidized by the local utility company/organization and most of the cost of the infrastructure was paid for by the local utility/taxpayers.

    This model allows as much security as you wish… and provides services to only those people who provide at least some of the costs. IMO the difficulty in changing this to wifi access is the cost of the infrastructure.

  • #142796

    Candace Riddle

    Recently moved to Charlotte, NC and was really disappointed to find that there was NO FREE wi-fi in downtown (a major banking and business hub no less). I could get free wi-fi in downtown Augusta, GA for goodness sakes. I was also disappointed to find out that I had to pay for wi-fi the last time I flew through Atlanta.

    I definatley believe that cities like Charlotte should offer free wi-fi. It encourages business and productivity. It seems like this would be a no brainer and that resources between the county and city could be shared to make this happen.

    I’ve recently seen several adds for “free” cell phones and wireless service for low income families in the area. If government (though this may be a Federal program) can make the luxury of a cell phone happen for those in need, then why not make wi-fi free for everyone who may be visitiing, conducting business, or otherwise driving productivity and revenue for the city?

  • #142794

    Julie Chase

    1 – Does your local government pay for wifi access? No, and I don’t want my taxes raised to pay for it.

    2 – Should they? No

    3 – What alternatives would you propose? Pay for it yourself.

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