Wireless for the Common Man
Free Internet could prove profitable.
- By Roberta Bragg
Last week I was traveling by car and Internet access was, shall
we say, irregular. When I could get high-speed access I paid a lot.
Ten bucks a day extra isn't much, but I paid three to five times
more just to stay in a hotel that provided it. I've also tried getting
the cheap hotel room and using dial-up. Slow I can handle; but have
you ever tried to send a 3MB zip file over dial-up? It's just not
going to happen.
I can't subscribe to multiple wireless access networks; they just
aren't everywhere I want to be. And it would be hypocritical to
sidle up to some businesses and mooch Internet access just because
its wireless network isn't secured. Besides, if the companies are
so behind that they don't lock out freeloaders from their wireless
network, they're probably so infected with worms and viruses that
using them for Internet access would be like using dial-up at the
OK, maybe I'm being selfish here. Just because I want to travel
and have primo Internet access everywhere is certainly no reason
for anyone to provide it.
But consider this: Internet access is becoming a critical resource.
Take education as one example. Schools are increasingly making the
Internet available to students and teachers, providing the kind
of education necessary to compete in the global economy. Of course,
I could spend more pages describing what Internet access can do
for struggling businesses, all kinds of professionals and not-for-profits.
The Internet has become our world library, our evening news, our
international art museum, our music repository, our extended family.
But not everyone in America has equal access to this resource.
In many rural and residential areas of our cities; for the struggling
small business; everywhere poor people live and work; or where the
population is not large enough for commercial enterprise to invest
in, there's no fast Internet access. There's no plot to keep the
Internet for the privileged — it's just that access costs
money. Even a dial-up line costs about $20 a month in the U.S.,
and much more elsewhere. These entry-level prices aren't barriers
for many of us, but they can take a significant bite out of a budget
for others. Even if it was cheaper, though, dial-up just isn't fast
enough anymore to provide benefits that can grow the next generation.
Now, think about what could be if free Internet access was available
Before you chastise me for being a dreamer, listen up: Some cities
are already headed in that direction.
- Cleveland, Ohio, has added some 4,000 wireless transmitters
in its University Circle, Midtown and Lakefront districts. Access
is free to anyone close enough to get the signals.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is considering building a wireless
mesh that spans the city. If completed, Internet access will be
available over almost all 135 city miles. It's considering providing
the service for free, and could end up actually saving money over
alternatives. The cost of the mesh, about $10 million, would be
cheaper than building a new library.
This utopian Internet ideal has a huge challenge in the area of
wireless security. If free access is provided, remote access policy
should require hardened client computers and a few "good citizen"
rules. These rules wouldn't be implemented to keep people off the
Internet, or to censor freedom of speech, but rather to keep them,
and the entire Web, a little safer for all.
Free security products and education will also be needed, but vendors
should consider that an investment. If Sharon uses a free product
to access the Internet or protect her computer, isn't she more likely
to stick with that company for future purchases? And whose product
will get recommended when Sharon's the decision-maker for the next
Google or Microsoft?
Security can also be profitable. For every dollar invested in making
sure a new Internet connection is a secure connection, 10 or 100
times that can be saved over the cost of cleanup after a major worm
or virus attack and the reduced costs for general network protection.
After all, we spend millions on free vaccinations and other public
health programs to prevent disease; let's start doing it now for
Rah rah, Philly and Cleveland! I salute you! Anyone else want to
join the party?
Roberta Bragg, MCSE: Security, CISSP, Security+, and Microsoft MVP is a Redmond contributing editor and the owner of Have Computer Will Travel Inc., an independent firm specializing in information security and operating systems. She's series editor for Osborne/McGraw-Hill's Hardening series, books that instruct you on how to secure your networks before you are hacked, and author of the first book in the series, Hardening Windows Systems.