Free Public WIFI and Externalities

I have been digesting the discussions about open wifi access points and the recent Free Public Wifi debates that came up after Cecilia Kang’s Washington Post article and I think I finally came up with a good way to express my grave concerns with the idea.

The continued use of inexpensive fossil fuels leads to the unintended consequences of global warming and the degradation of our environment, and the same goes for the concept of free shared public wifi access.   Shared free access leads to an increase in utilization of network infrastructure with no economic benefit to the network provider.   I recognize that there are going to be situations where free wifi access is considered to be an economic benefit (McDonalds, Starbucks, etc) but in those situations the entity providing it would be reasonably expected to be purchasing a commercial grade connection in order to deliver that service.    One person with an open wifi connection on a residential account, sharing it with their neighbors, is taking potential customers away from the provider while increasing the oversubscription ratio of their network.   This will eventually lead to performance degradation, increased prices or both, so FREE is anything but.   Free public wifi is the equivalent of global warming on our broadband infrastructure.

A network operator has to face the massive increase in demand for bandwidth and pay the bills to upgrade infrastructure, while facing stagnant or declining revenues.    This is a daunting task to deal with already, so encouraging people to share their connections is more carbon based fuel thrown on the fire.

Nothing is free!

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