We were in DC the other day, and a movie in the Capitol Visitor’s Center reminded me about the Rural Electrification Project and bill passes by Congress in 1936 as part of the New Deal legislation under Roosevelt. While it turned out that as a Works Project administration project, it was a bit of a dud, since it required more skilled than unskilled laborers, it did put many people to work and was instrumental in starting electric cooperatives across the Country. While Utility companies were upset by this, saying that the Government was competing with private enterprise, they, too, were encouraged to set up service to rural communities. Local electric cooperatives were formed, and now the program still exists under the Department of Agriculture as the Rural Utilities Service, with public/private partnerships.
While the Rural Electrification project was controversial, it provided much needed infrastructure to the less populated areas of the Country.
My naive question is this: Is it not time to consider doing the same thing for wi-fi and internet service?
What would happen if municpal wi-fi networks were set up like phone services in every spot in the Country? What if you never really had to worry about being outside a hotspot? Sure, you would have to pay for access, just like you do now, maybe even with something akin to EZ Pass for toll roads- a pay per usage when you are out of your home network charge. Sure, if you have your own wi-fi hot point, you can mostly do this now. But at $60 a month for a contract, that seems a little steep for anything but high end users.
What I’m thinking here is that internet access is going to become a social justice issue. The internet is becoming the new library and the container for knowledge. Inadequate service or dial-up means audio and video information is essentially invisible for you. And if you don’t have a computer at home, public libraries, schools and work are the only place you have a chance to access this information (unless you have a web-enabled phone, but let’s assume if you don’t have a computer, an iphone isn’t the first thing on your list to buy.)
We live in a community that is rural/suburban. Because there is a significant bit of farming occuring, we have a large immigrant population, often not very well off. Yet their children are expected to complete assignments and learn how to use information technology, often solely at school because of the lack of tools like computers at home. But with the advent and low price point of net books, it’s going to become more and more likely that families may get their first computer. Wifi and municipal wifi would be a real benefit to these families.
I know there are many arguments and pitfalls to this idea- it’s not perfect- but I was wondering what you thought. If we are spending all sorts of money in the Stimulus plan, shouldn’t some of it go towards modern infrastructure- our virtual information highways, as well as the ones we drive our cars on?