Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Last week the Columbia Flier raised the issue of including wireless internet access (also known as wi-fi) in the redeveloped Downtown Columbia. Wi-fi is a great, forward thinking idea. There is no better way to get people to spend more time outside at cafes, parks, and street side seating areas than to allow them to bring their work, email, and web surfing outside where they can both enjoy their surroundings and get done what they need to do. When I was on vacation out west this summer I was amazed how many areas with free wi-fi I found. Whether I was at a pizza place in Red Lodge, MT, a library in Helena, MT, or a lodge/restaurant just outside Yosemite National Park I found free wi-fi and it brought patrons out to enjoy each facility.

As the Flier editorialized after their article:

Like running water, electricity and cable television before it, wireless Internet capability will soon be widely considered a part of living and doing business in American communities.

Communities that don't have it will find themselves at a competititve disadvantage for attracting and retaining business and keeping residents happy.

But, make no mistake, this technology is coming. And in a few years, we'll probably be wondering how we lived without it.

I could not have said it better myself. If we want a forward looking downtown for Columbia free wi-fi has to be a component to it. Thanks to the superb Howard County Library System and a couple forward thinking businesses we already have free wi-fi in a couple pockets in our community. Lets make outdoor free wi-fi a key component of bringing people out to use existing and proposed public spaces.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

" better way to get people to spend more time outside at cafes, parks, and street side seating areas than to allow them to bring their work, email, and web surfing outside where they can both enjoy their surroundings and get done what they need to do. " ?

Step away from the keyboard. Who goes to the park to get on the Internet? I imagine there's many who don't want to hear clickity-clack keyboards and tap-tap-slam mice at the table next to them. Hard as it seems to imagine, there's actually some people who go the park to hear, gasp, nature.

Why do we need to lure people to streetside seating areas? Is e-loitering a word?

Ubiquitous access to the Internet may not be so grand. A similar phase of mass compulsion to persistent wireless communication happened when cell phones came along and we're still dealing with rudeness, dangerous distractions, and evermore annoying ringtones/ringsongs/ringwhatevers.

It's actually kind of sad seeing people out in the world who need to be constantly tethered to the virtual world, instead of fully immersed in their actual place. Look around the next large event you attend and you'll see way too many people using little devices to focus their attention to someplace else. Seems kind of silly to pay to attend some event and then ignore it.

I believe Bell, after inventing the phone, refused to allow one within a half mile of his lab.

Still other issues relative to wi-fi abound. Should users pay for it? Some cities have proposed a very modest fee for those using it to cover its costs.

Should it be a public utility or provided via a private carrier? If private, should net neutrality be enforced?

What privacy policies (if any) would be used for those using wi-fi?

A bit Orwellian perhaps, but along with omnipresent wi-fi, I expect a proliferation of webcams in public spaces. Ready?

9:44 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

I think use of the wi-fi will be up to each person. I for one would love to take work I need to do (such as post to this blog or corresponding with friends by email, which is something I seem to never have time to do these days) outside. As it is I don't get to enjoy nature as much as I would like these days and wi-fi would allow me to actually go outside and work in an nice place and enjoy my surroundings. I know many people who have flexible office needs that spend most of their work day in comfortable wi0fi spots either outside or at their favorite coffee shop. I think if people's work allows it they should be able to. Of course I love to take books and notepads with me when I go hiking so I can read and think in peaceful places and on my last big hiking and camping trip my labtop was added to the list because there was stuff I wanted to type. Let's have the option for those who want it. And as for paying for it two thoughts:
1) If the developer is selling the downtown redevelopment as something that will create a more vibrant downtown with cafes, why doesn't the developer pay for it so the community can see action rather than just grand empty words from the developer,
2) The article that I link to in the post also mentions other free options involving ads paying for the cost as an example.

1:25 AM  
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5:34 AM  

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