This, the first of our regional blogs, is authored by the technology and financial journalist Dominic Basulto. Dominic is a New York native, has been a senior editor at Corante since day one and has written for a number of online and offline media companies. Send tips or story ideas to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About this weblog
Here we'll report daily on the latest tech and business developments in New York City. Impossible we concede: comprehensive coverage of the city's every story. What we hope you'll find: tips, tidbits and perspectives you won't find elsewhere. As well as unique insights, original interviews and more that should be of interest to New York's vibrant community of technologists and those who track, invest in and report on them.
In an article over at Digital Lifestyles ("A Wi-Fi'd Welshman In New York"), the UK's Mike Slocombe rhapsodizes about the ease and efficiency of finding Wi-Fi spots all over New York City:
"Unlike the UK, where the provision of Wi-Fi is often only seen as a revenue earner for landlords, café owners and telecoms companies, we had no problem hooking up for free all over New York. Maybe it's the fact that the apartments are so small in New York - or that the coffee keeps on getting refilled for free - but we were surprised by the popularity of cafes and bars serving up free Wi-Fi to their customers.
Wherever we went, a quick boot up of our laptop (or i-Mate JAMM smartphone/SanDisk wi-fi card) would inevitably produce a mile long list of networks available. We successfully logged in for free all over New York - in the East Village, Williamsburg, Lower East Side, Central Park, SoHo, you name it! - and were able to fire off emails and download tunes while enjoying coffee and bagels in several fine hostelries."
After conferring via e-mail with Marshall Brown, the CEO of Wi-Fi Salon, NewYorkology reports that the plan to install a Wi-Fi network in Central Park has been delayed indefinitely:
"The free wi-fi plan isn't in jeopardy, just deferred. Put simply, we are in continued negotiations with a lead sponsor and several other sponsors. Their product launch delays affected their marketing spends, and in turn changed our timetable. A U.S. product launch for late October was scratched until Q1, a marketing spend was put off till then as well. We continue to talk. There are a half dozen other conversations besides, at least."
Adam Balkin of NY1 reports on a new Emmy Award category for content made specifically for handheld devices like cell phones, PlayStation portables or the iPod video. Michael Learmonth of Variety says it's a move that's been long expected:
"I think the digital Emmy thing was bound to happen. The TV community is producing so much content for the web now and there's so much money funding it so I think it was a matter of time. If you go out and talk to TV production houses they really consider this a legitimate line of business. They're producing content for Yahoo and AOL, which have sort of fashioned themselves as TV networks."
There are, of course, a few guidelines for content creators hopeful of snagging an Emmy: "[The content] has to be created just for a portable device, and it can't be something that was on TV or the big screen and just moved over to the smaller devices. Also, it has to be less than 20 minutes in length..."
In Westchester County, it could soon be illegal - repeat, illegal - to have an unsecured Wi-Fi signal. According to a new proposal being considered by Westchester politicians, any business or home office with an open wireless connection but no separate server to fend off Internet attacks would be violating the law. It's easy to see how this could become a nightmare scenario for the casual Wi-Fi user - driving around downtown White Plains, city officials detected 248 wireless connections in less than 30 minutes. ZDNet has more details:
"Politicians in Westchester County are urging adoption of the law--which appears to be the first such legislation in the U.S.--because without it, "somebody parked in the street or sitting in a neighboring building could hack into the network and steal your most confidential data," County Executive Andy Spano said in a statement.
The draft proposal offered this week would compel all "commercial businesses" with an open wireless access point to have a "network gateway server" outfitted with a software or hardware firewall. Such a firewall, used to block intrusions from outside the local network, would be required even for a coffee shop that used an old-fashioned cash register instead of an Internet-linked credit card system that could be vulnerable to intrusions..."
According to one Westchester official interviewed for the article, the law would apply to home offices as well.
GattoMedia is launching its GattoBroadband "High-Speed Internet on Wheels" service in New York next week. According to GattoMedia, satellite vehicles will be "on-call, ready to be dispatched to breaking news stories, live events, news conferences, remote locations and areas that are under-served by current Internet access methods." Tony Gatto, president of GattoMedia, explains why the service would have value for news teams - or just about any other organization working off-site for a limited period of time:
"GattoBroadband provides a truly self-contained mobile newsroom and Wi-Fi hotspot option for breaking news stories and remote events. We hope to provide a solution for organizations that need immediate broadband Internet access, but may not have the means to do so through traditional methods."
As a demo of what's possible with the new service, the company is arranging free Wi-Fi service for customers of the New York Waterway's ferries to Manhattan at the Port Imperial Terminal in Weehawken next Tuesday.
Verizon's efforts to popularize its broadband wireless Internet service (EV-DO) are coming at the expense of city Wi-Fi providers, according to the New York Post. As Internet users and municipalities around the country continue to embrace the idea of citywide Wi-Fi networks, Verizon has been working overtime on a plan to protect its market position in the battle over wireless Internet access. Apparently, Philadelphia's recent decision to deploy a citywide Wi-Fi network - essentially turning the city into a giant Wi-Fi hotspot - was a final wakeup call. In response, Verizon has launched a new advertising campaign that plays up the advantages of EV-DO while taking a few "not-so-subtle" shots at Wi-Fi:
"In one TV spot now airing in the city, a man at a Starbucks-like coffee shop is shown trying to get online using a Wi-Fi hotspot while annoying customers hover around him and an even more annoying folk singer garbles in the background. "Don't get caught in a not-so-hot spot," the narrator warns. And a full-page print ad that ran last week in The Wall Street Journal screamed, "Wi-Fi? Why Bother? Get Broadband Access Instead."
Verizon's new ad campaign has not gone unnoticed by ardent Wi-Fi supporters in the city, such as Andrew Rasiej, who recently ran for Public Advocate on a platform that called for citywide Wi-Fi access. According to Mr. Rasiej and others, the cable and DSL incumbents are scared to death of Wi-Fi and will do whatever they can to cripple the municipal Wi-Fi movement.
Yes, you read that correctly - the Bryant Park ice rink. According to the New York Daily News, Bryant Park will become "an ice skater's wonderland" within the next month or so. Admission to the new Olympic-size ice rink will be free, so that means free ice skating AND free Wi-Fi. (We're not getting greedy here, are we, if we also ask for free hot chocolate?)
"This partnership with Verizon Wireless is indicative of the optimism businesses have in the Bronx, and another great example of the unprecedented economic development that has been taking place in our borough in recent years. The Bronx has experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the last four years, and since the launch of the Bronx At Work program last year, over 20,000 Bronx residents have found jobs."
"ChainHotels.com has compiled a national list of over 2,000 hotels that offer guests free Internet access at no additional charge. These hotels let you fire up your laptop and get online either through a wireless connection (WiFi) or direct connection through the Ethernet port. This is a very useful list to road warriors and vacationers who want to find a hotel and be sure it offers free access to the Internet..."
Among the national hotel chains now offering Internet access in rooms at no additional charge: Baymont Suites, Best Western, Comfort Suites, Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield Inn, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Homewood Suites, Microtel, Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, Staybridge Suites, Townplace Suites, and Wingate Inn. Not sure how many of these are in New York City, but it's still good to know if you're packing off for a business trip somewhere in Flyover Country.
That's the question asked by Joe Sharkey of the New York Times. Sharkey is "getting fed up with being charged $9.95 or more in an expensive hotel for broadband Internet service" - especially when there are free Wi-Fi networks all over the city: "The next time an expensive hotel tries to jack me up with an Internet surcharge, I'm grabbing my laptop and heading for the park."
Over at ZDNet, Russell Shaw notes that Google is now a sponsor of Bryant Park's Wi-Fi Network. According to Shaw, Google could be working on a new system for delivering Google Ads, based on one's physical location:
"Powered by Google." Hmm. Makes you wonder what they are up to. Maybe Google Ads, tied to mobile presence? Say they know you are in NYC's Bryant Park. Bryant Park is right next to the main branch of the New York Public Library. That's a place frequented by lots of educated readers, computer users, researchers - and hmm, Google users, too. OK, let's think about it some more. Maybe if I am a Google salesperson in the NYC office, I visit nearby merchants and sell them Google AdWords? Google AdWords or Google AdSense tied to mobile presence? Definitely."
Or, it could just be the fact that Google's corporate offices in New York are located about a block away. Maybe it's all part of Google's "Don't Be Evil" philosophy -- supporting wireless Internet in the parks is just a way of doing good in the world.
According to the New York Daily News, free Wi-Fi networks are being installed at 10 parks across the city, including Central Park and Prospect Park. The Wi-Fi networks are being installed by Manhattan-based Wi-Fi Salon. An executive with Wi-Fi Salon explains why the wireless networks are important to the future of the city: "We're the media capital of the world, the cultural capital of the world. There should be a wireless umbrella over the whole city."
In the debate over citywide Wi-Fi networks, one place to tune in for more coverage is the Community Wireless blog, started by NYCwireless executive director Dana Spiegel. As most of you probably already know, NYCwireless is a non-profit organization that advocates for and enables the growth of public wireless networks. (In fact, the first time that I ever connected to a public wireless network, it was through a free wireless node provided by NYCwireless.)
"About 60 percent of New York City doesnt make use of broadband, and 90 percent of low-income people have no broadband. The reason for this is that most communities have only access to one or two big providers, and broadband cant be had in New York for less than $50 a month."
While most people agree that broadband Internet access is turning into a "basic human right" - just like electricity - the debate over wireless Internet access gets nuanced really fast. For example, it appears that NYCwireless is interested in "improving broadband accessibility and affordability, but not making it a public utility." In other words, muni wireless is not the same thing as community wireless, and government involvement in the build-out of a wireless network might do more harm than good if it is not handled properly. Yet, that doesn't mean that government shouldn't be in the business of providing a public good if private sector providers fail to step up to the plate. Singapore, for example, offers an "effective model for how government could get involved," according to muni wireless proponents.
Not sure what the poll numbers in the race for New York City Public Advocate look like, but bloggers and other intellectuals continue to flock to Andrew Rasiej's campaign for Public Advocate, drawn primarily by Andrew's support of a citywide Wi-Fi network for New York.
The New York Sun's John Avlon calls citywide Wi-Fi one of the best ideas advanced by any Democratic candidate, while New York intellectual Douglas Rushkoff also lavishes praise on Rasiej: "I'm supporting Andrew Rasiej because he gets that a city today - even one as centralized and powerful as New York - is no longer a Renaissance-era city-state to be dictated from the top, but living network that breathes, spreads, and self-repairs from the periphery."
In The L Magazine, Brian Diedrick also has a rousingly positive profile of Andrew Rasiej, even going so far as to implicitly compare Andrew Rasiej to legendary American patriot Patrick Henry in "Give Me WiFi or Give Me Death!" Diedrick explains that Andrew Rasiej "would like to do for the New York City Public Advocates post what Eliot Spitzers done for the state Attorney Generals desk. Where many see an office worth not much more than a pitcher of warm spit, Rasiej sees an opportunity to wire New York for universal WiFi access..."
UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after we posted this entry, the New York Times came out with a profile of Andrew Rasiej and his plan for citywide high-speed wireless: "A Man With a Vision for Getting New York Wired." Methinks, though, that the title should have used the term "unwired," not "wired," eh?
On today's Wall Street Journal op-ed page, Andy Kessler weighs in on the debate over Philadelphia's municipal Wi-Fi ("Mu-Fi") experiment. It's hard to choose sides in this debate, says Kessler, mostly because both sides are being a bit disingenuous about what's at stake. On one hand, the city of Philadelphia is contextualizing its Wi-Fi initiative as a way to help the city's poor and disadvantaged bridge the Digital Divide, while Verizon complains about the meddling of "public sector bureaucrats" in what should be a private sector affair. In reality, though, companies like Verizon view Mu-Fi as a radical threat to their domination of telecom and cable, while the city of Philadelphia actually views the municipal Wi-Fi experiment as a way to save $2 million each year on its citywide IT budget. Confused yet? (No wonder that the public Wi-Fi debate in New York has confused so many people...)
Verizon Wireless announced plans to slash the price of its high-speed wireless Internet service by 25%, opening up a price war with other companies offering the same EV-DO technology (e.g. Sprint Nextel). According to an analyst interviewed by Reuters, the pricing move is a classic attempt to build the customer base while, at the same time, holding off the advance of competitors. The price cut should put the service, mainly aimed at business people until now, in a more affordable price range for consumers.
The New York Times has more on the city's decision to build a wireless voice and data network for the underground subway system. If all goes according to plan, that means your cellphone will work underground sometime within the next decade, just like it already works in Hong Kong and Seoul. The MTA is already starting to solicit bids for a 10-year contract that will be worth anywhere from $50 million to $100 million. All the usual suspects -- Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile - are lining up at the public trough, hoping to win the mandate from the MTA. Final bids are due October 12, so that gives these companies about 6 weeks to come up with the winning bid.
Gothamist weighs in on the announcement with a bit of amusement:
"The possibility of using cell phones underground leads to many questions: Will cell phone kiosks start popping up underground? Will illegal vendors peddling their wares now include ones selling cell phone tchotchkes? Will the kids "selling" M&Ms for their school basketball teams be unwitting victims of straphangers yapping on the cell phones? Will there be even more cell phone thefts? And yes, our ears, our ears! We'll be subjected to those travelogues we hear on surface trains and as soon planes land, "Yeah, I just landed...wanted to see what was up... yeah, the flight was okay..."
On the back pages of The Wall Street Journal yesterday, there was a half-page, full-color ad announcing a new collaboration between T-Mobile and the WSJ: "T-Mobile HotSpot Service Now Includes Complimentary Access To The Wall Street Journal Online."
Here's the pitch:
"T-Mobile HotSpot customers have always been an intelligent bunch. And now theyre even smarter with complimentary access to The Wall Street Journal Online from the comfort and convenience of any T-Mobile HotSpot location nationwide... Login to the T-Mobile HotSpot Wi-Fi network from any of our 5,700 nationwide locations and enjoy complimentary, full access to The Wall Street Journal Online for a limited time."
The fine print indicates that the offer is good through January 31, 2006.
It's an interesting concession to Internet users, the majority of whom believe that Wi-Fi should be free and that online content should be free. The deal between T-Mobile and the WSJ basically says that you can have one free, but not both.
"Can you see my customer information now?" According to Crain's New York, Verizon Wireless customers who signed up for online billing services were able to peek at some details of others' accounts due to a Web site programming error:
"The flaw allowed customers who punched in another user's phone number to see how many airtime minutes that person had used, as well as the number of free minutes they had remaining for the month. Snoopers could also learn what cell phone model a customer used."
The good news, says Verizon Wireless, is that the glitch is now fixed. The bad news? Well, the glitch apparently existed for five years.
The New York Post has a warning for all the day traders out there: "Don't make trades on your wireless computer unless you know how to shoot down a new breed of high-tech pirates tracking your accounts." At least, that's the advice of the NASD, which apparently has just discovered the wonderful world of wireless Internet networks. (That happens sometimes with regulators -- they're always the last to know) Small cells of Wi-Fi hackers have apparently infiltrated Wall Street, with the ability to "tap into almost any WiFi network and lift personal information and even transfer holdings into their own hands."
As noted earlier today, three cellphone service providers - Sprint, Nextel and T-Mobile USA - have been sued by the city for allegedly deceptive advertising practices. We use the term 'allegedly' here - but decide for yourself. This stuff seems pretty blatant. The New York Post has some examples of print ads that don't pass the proverbial smell test:
Sprint: "Nationwide long distance included. EVERY MINUTE, EVERY DAY." However, a footnote cites "an additional $0.25 per minute for long distance."
T-Mobile: "FREE LONG DISTANCE" and "FREE ROAMING" but a footnote adds that "billing of roaming charges and minutes of use and services may be delayed" and that "call duration may be limited."
Nextel: "ALL INCOMING CALLS ARE FREE" but read the fine print: "An additional access charge of either $0.10 per minute multiplied by the number of participants on the call . . . or a monthly flat fee."
A big hat tip to the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs for taking on these cellphone companies. According to the Post, Nextel, Sprint and T-Mobile USA are facing fines of up to $500 per violation.
Ever signed up for a cellphone contract after being lured in with promises of free incoming calls, free long-distance, and free cell phones for other members of your family and then found out that all kinds of strings were attached? The New York Daily News has the latest on the lawsuit filed by the citys Department of Consumer Affairs against Nextel, Sprint and T-Mobile USA. In the lawsuit, the city accuses the three cellphone companies of using deceptive advertising to sell wireless services and equipment.
Jonathan Mintz, head of the Department of Consumer Affairs, explains why some of the ads are so tricky: "Theyre telling you one thing in the large print and taking it away in the fine print. Any way you slice it, thats illegal."
Interested in wireless connectivity that goes everywhere you go? The New York Times explains how any small- or mid-sized company can set up a roving Wi-Fi hot spot with the use of the Junxion Box from Seattle-based Junxion.
As part of the (ahem) research for the article, Johanna Jainchill of the Times goes backstage at the filming of an episode of "The Sopranos" at a country club in Scarsdale. By using the Junxion Box, the production company was able to set up a mobile multi-user Internet connection outside of a dressing room trailer. Staff members were then able to tap into the Junxion Box and use their laptops to exchange messages and documents with the production offices at Silvercup Studios in Queens.
Gothamist follows up on the ringing debate over whether cellphone service should be available in NYC tunnel crossings. In the wake of the London terrorist bombings that involved cellphone-detonated explosives, the authorities-that-be ordered cellphone service turned off in the tunnels. That order was overturned, in part, because commuters want to have cellphone service in the tunnels as a safety precaution. Nobody really knows the full story, with the NYPD and Port Authority involved in a high-level flap about who said what, when.
RCR Wireless News notes that VoIP users are finally able to access 911 in New York City. The move is huge, according to VoIP providers: "The deployment of the VoIP E911 solution in New York City represents a significant milestone in the evolution of 911, providing VoIP subscribers in New York City with the same level of emergency response as traditional wireline service." From the article in RCR Wireless News, it's apparent that a lot of political maneuvering went into the move. In fact, an exec from VoIP provider Vonage called it "four months of Kabuki Theater" in NYC, as the different parties met and argued and debated.
Verizon Wireless has launched a next-generation high-speed wireless Internet service that will cover most of Long Island. It won't come cheap, either: Verizon has salted away close to $1 billion for future expansion of the high-speed Internet service in the New York metropolitan area. The new Verizon service, which uses a cellular-based EV-DO (evolution-data optimized) network, has been available in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens since early this year.
In Seattle, Verizon launched a similar service this week, which the Seattle Times calls "cool" and "speedy." (but also a tad expensive, if you start downloading games and TV clips and all the other goodies)
Andrew Rasiej, candidate for NYC Public Advocate, unveiled the details of his city-wide Wi-Fi plan yesterday on the steps of City Hall. The Rasiej Wi-Fi plan has generated a fair amount of buzz, and not just in the local New York papers. For example, Kari Chisholm of Blue Oregon has also picked up the story, calling the thinking behind the NY Wi-Fi Plan the "best description I've seen yet about why low-cost Wi-Fi should be considered a core issue of civil rights, economic fairness, and educational opportunity..."
For a total of $80 million (about $10 per resident), says Rasiej, it's possible to provide high-speed Internet access across the city, including free Wi-Fi in public places. The full text of the speech announcing the Wi-Fi plan as well as details about how it would actually work are available on the Rasiej campaign blog. (Thanks, Micah)
Andrew Rasiej plans to unveil his "New York Wi-Fi" Plan tomorrow afternoon on the steps of City Hall. If you're in lower Manhattan during lunch time, it's worth checking out. According to Rasiej, who is running for Public Advocate, the plan will bring low-cost wireless Internet to all New Yorkers.
If you make frequent bus trips between Albany and New York City, there's now free Wi-Fi service onboard buses from the Albany NY Bus Company. The wireless Internet service was originally marketed to SUNY-Albany students, and it fizzled. Now, the bus company is marketing the free Wi-Fi as a productivity tool for business travelers.
Cafes that once provided free Wi-Fi access to patrons as a way of encouraging customers to linger over coffee and dessert for hours at a time are finding that, quite often, the costs outweigh the benefits. In places like Seattle and San Francisco and New York, laptop users clog up tables meant for four or more people. These laptop users don't talk to anybody else, just clack away on their keyboards incessantly. Moreover, some "sit for six to eight hours purchasing a single drink, or nothing at all. Even worse, when lingerers were confronted, they were bellicose."
It's all part of a Wi-Fi backlash, in which cafe owners are even going to the extreme of disconnecting the Wi-Fi connection on weekends. Surely, somewhere, there must be a guide to Wi-Fi Etiquette. How long should you be able to nurse a single drink without being expected to pony up for another purchase? 1 hour? 90 minutes? Is a big tip enough to avoid being kicked out?
If you're intrigued by tech entrepreneur Andrew Rasiej's campaign for Public Advocate, be sure to check out Jake Dobkin's interview for Gothamist, where Rasiej explains why the city needs a universal Wi-Fi network:
"Low-cost universal broadband will plug our kids into the information explosion, 24-7, not just the one hour a week that they now get scheduled in a computer room. Imagine the value of buses and subways that can ping passengers a few minutes before they arrive at a stop, so you dont have to wait out in the cold. Every family and small business that now pays up to $600 a year for broadband will save hundreds of dollars. And then think of how this can improve public safety... We cant afford not to do this, the same way we invested a century ago in things like the water system, the subways and Central Park."
According to Mobiledia, Nickelodeon and Verizon Wireless are teaming up to bring Nickelodeon video content to Verizon Wireless' VCAST wireless phones. By the time summer arrives, Verizon VCAST customers will be able to watch Nickelodeon television programming on their mobile phones. In addition, VCAST customers will have access to an increasing number of music videos, each about one to three minutes long.
Olga Kharif of Business Week looks at Wall Streeters who are trading stocks without a wire. According to Kharif, "Wall Street is becoming a nationwide hot spot, featuring round-the-clock trading, stronger security, and lower costs for investors on the go..." For example, there's the hedge fund manager who receives his QuoTrek feed on his BlackBerry; the retail investors who sign onto their brokerage accounts on laptops and PDAs at hotels or cafés; and research firms that provide real-time market and stock data specifically geared to wireless traders who need 24/7 access.
"The good news is that we dont need to wait to get everybody connected. The technology is there, the talent is there, the precedent is there. Its affordable, available, and scaleable. I intend to help prove that in the coming weeks by releasing a realistic plan to provide universal, low-cost WiFi for New York... All thats missing is a common commitment to get the job done."
"Circuits" is gone but not forgotten. The New York Times is running a special section of "Circuits" today on the broader theme of wireless living. It's a grab bag of articles about Wi-Fi hotspots, wireless gadgets, wireless search and an interesting piece from Virginia Postrel that says that the appeal of wireless technology has as much to do with the "glamorous aura" of wireless as it does with practical considerations.
Thanks to all the sponsors who made it possible: J&R, Vonage, Dell, Nikon, Nextel, Bose and Cisco. Look for another special edition of "Circuits" on June 8 that will be devoted to digital photography.
New York Magazine has a Q&A with Internet entrepreneur Andrew Rasiej, who is running for the Public Advocate position against incumbent Betsy Gotbaum. Rasiej (pronounced rah-SHAY) is promoting a number of issues of interest to the New York techno elite, including universal Wi-Fi access, cellphone-friendly subways and a more technologically-sophisticated 311 service.
For those interested in getting more involved with the Rasiej campaign, there's now a blog called Advocates for Rasiej. Will the grassroots blog campaign have legs? Well, blog publisher Jason Calacanis has already given his support to Rasiej.
In March, we interviewed Craig Plunkett (the guy who put Wi-Fi on the Hampton Jitney, among other things) about his Wi-Fi plans for the MTA ("Put Wi-Fi on New York Commuter Trains"). If you're interested to read what's changed since then, check out the April 29 Wi-Fi Planet interview:
"Meet Craig Plunkett, a networking jack-of-all-trades with three modestly successful Wi-Fi enterprises underway in the New York area, and a Don Quixote-like quest to bring Wi-Fi to New York commuter trains. It's a quest that has so far met with nothing but frustration, but Plunkett is glad to talk about it anytime..."
In These Times asks a provocative question -- Is Low-Cost Wi-Fi Un-American? -- in order to point out that representatives from Verizon, Qwest, Comcast and a bevy of other telecom heavies are doing their best to stamp out free or low-cost Wi-Fi:
"Just as the notion of affordable broadband for all was beginning to take hold in towns and cities across the country, the patriots at Verizon, Qwest, Comcast, Bell South and SBC Communications have created legislation that will stop the creeping socialism of broadband community Internet before it invades our homes...
Telecommunications giants have mobilized a well-funded army of coin-operated think tanks, pliant legislators and lazy journalists who stand ready to paint community Internet as an affront to American innovation and free enterprise. Their weapon of choice is industry-crafted legislation that restricts local governments from offering public service Internet access at reasonable rates..."
A 19-page PDF white paper ("Connecting the Public: The Truth About Municipal Broadband") is available to the public at the Media Access Project Web site. The paper argues that it makes sense for municipal governments to serve their citizens by deploying broadband networks:
"As broadband becomes a necessary utility, local governments must remain free to play their traditional role as a safety net for their residents and businesses. Just as municipalities provided power a century ago when private companies did not move fast enough, so to will local governments provide broadband in a timely manner."
On Monday, Media Access Project and Free Press plan to release a white paper "defending the right of municipalities to offer broadband services, and rebutting the various industry attacks on muni systems." In addition, Free Press intends to take on Verizon's negative claims about municipal broadband offerings.
Information Week has a wrap-up of last week's "Wireless on Wall Street" summit, including a discussion of Wi-Fi security concerns. Some financial services firms, like Wachovia and AXA Financial, "see promise in the emerging 802.11i security specification for wireless networks." However, "it's still unclear if the financial-services industry is ready for widespread adoption of wireless, given broader security concerns..."
A clever infographic from The Onion takes a tongue-in-cheek look at eight reasons why wireless Internet access is popular with the "needy laptop-toting underclass." If you blog while doing laundry, you need to read this... (Hat tip: Paul Boutin)
"Sophisticated criminals have begun to use the unsecured Wi-Fi networks of unsuspecting consumers and businesses to help cover their tracks in cyberspace. In the wired world, it was often difficult for lawbreakers to make themselves untraceable on the Internet. In the wireless world, with scores of open Wi-Fi networks in some neighborhoods, it could hardly be easier."
The article goes behind the scenes with, among others, a New Jersey official at the Department of Homeland Security, who explains how easy it is for cybercriminals to tap into the Wi-Fi networks of unsuspecting neighbors. Moreover, the wireless networks at coffee shops, college campuses, and hotel lobbies are also exposed, say wireless security experts.
Anybody with even a passing interest in the stock market (or a more than passing interest in Maria Bartiromo) has probably tuned into CNBC's Squawk Box at least once. What exactly is a "squawk box," though?
Wall Street & Technology has an interesting piece on the 50-year-old technology behind the squawk box -- and looks at how VoIP technology could lead to significant changes in the way that investment management firms think about their analog communication networks.
Forbes takes a closer look at how Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers was finally able to overcome its fears about wireless security and install a wireless network. Until January 2004, Lehman Brothers had a firm-wide "no wireless" policy, and, due to nagging concerns about enterprise security, the firm was putting off any plans to deploy wireless access points indefinitely.
That all changed, though, once Atlanta-based wireless security firm AirDefense was able to show that it was possible to erect a nearly ironclad wireless defense system. In addition, AirDefense was able to give Lehman remote access ability and the capability of monitoring possible rogue wireless activity. Now Lehman has more than 500 wireless access points deployed worldwide -- and plans to add more.
Wi-Fi Planet profiles John Geraci, a graduate student in NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, who is using Wi-Fi technology to create "an online meeting place where near neighbors can post and read messages of very local interest." Geraci explains the underlying concept of NeighborNode:
"What I wanted to do was reintroduce the idea of an old town center in a big, modern city. To create a non-threatening place where people who didn't know each other could have a dialog."
For now, there are 13 NeighborNodes up and running, with the majority of them clustered near Greenwich Village.
Since finding a yellow cab in Brooklyn can be tricky, the borough's leaders are working on a new plan that would enable residents and tourists to hail a cab or private car service using a cell phone and simple GPS technology: "You make a call, and a taxi knows exactly where to pick you up." The initial plan calls for London-based Zingo to "import" its GPS system to well-recognized tourist locations in Brooklyn; from there, the system could be rolled out borough-wide.
The New York Inns Hotel Group, which bills itself as "Boutique Hotels for the Budget Minded", will now offer Manhattan hotel guests broadband wireless Internet access as a standard feature. According to the company's press release, Wi-Fi is a valuable marketing perk: "Quality hotel accommodation at affordable rates in Manhattan, become even more affordable with much broader spectrum of offered amenities."
In November, the Gotham Gazette ran a piece by Sarah Myland Kaufman urging the MTA to put Wi-Fi Internet access on commuter trains like Metro-North and the LIRR. While other major metropolitan areas like London, Paris, Seattle and Tokyo are all considering Wi-Fi on various forms of commuter transportation, the MTA has stated several times that it has no intention of providing wireless Internet access. As of now, writes Kaufman, "New York City provides Wi-Fi on no transportation mode other than the Hampton Jitney and the LimoLiner luxury bus to Boston."
So who better to ask about Wi-Fi for the New York commuter rails than Craig Plunkett, a self-described "New York Wi-Fi guy" who was instrumental in putting Wi-Fi on the Hampton Jitney? (Be sure to watch his QuickTime movie about Wi-Fi on the Hampton Jitney - an "epic tale of bandwidth and mobility for high-powered Hamptonites.") Last June, the New York Times profiled the Hampton Jitney's Wi-Fi rollout, mentioning Plunkett and his company CEDX.
Below, Plunkett answers a few questions about Wi-Fi and the MTA for Corante readers:
Q. Does it make sense for the MTA to install a system-wide Wi-Fi network in the subway or on the commuter rail lines like Metro-North or the LIRR?
"Wi-Fi in the subway would be a total loser, unless it was a comprehensive, vendor-neutral network that could carry both licensed and unlicensed network traffic (I include voice here too, whatever your opinion on subway cell conversations are).
Commuter Rail is a much easier, lower hanging fruit to pick with far better returns, especially in the New York Metro region. If you confine your revenue source to public wi-fi, there wouldn't be nearly enough revenue to cover the cost of a subway buildout. Plus, better subscriber devices and authentication methods more suited to subway travel need to come along. Dual mode Wi-Fi/Cell phones are the most likely devices to drive that usage. Average people (AOL users, not geeks and early adopters like Corante readers) also don't stay long enough in a subway station to use a laptop, which is where the revenue is coming from right now."
Q. What would be the cost of retrofitting one subway line with Wi-Fi?
"A really big number, because in the subway system, you have to use leaky coax to form the edge of the network, which is what is used to provide wireless coverage in the east river and hudson tunnels. Extrapolate from what it cost Verizon to do the East River Amtrak tunnels. You'd also have to use fiber to connect each station together. There's fiber in the subway tunnels for comms anyway so that's in place. I had heard that Nextel was negotiating with the Real Estate Department of the MTA to light up the subway, but that was at least a year ago."
Q. Based on your experience with the Hampton Jitney, what are the major stumbling blocks to putting Wi-Fi in the subway and on the commuter rail lines?
"The major stumbling blocks are the MTA and the Railroads themselves. I don't know if its a lack of will or concern, or the reservation of the MTA as a private hunting ground for firms represented by well-connected lobbyists, but in the three years I've been trying, I haven't met a single person that was even willing to champion the idea. I've applied to our local congressional delegation for an appropriation, and it seems reasonable to get the funds for a pilot buildout, along the lines of the Washington State Ferry system's model, but a basic requirement of getting an appropriation like that is that you have to have somebody within the MTA willing to work with you, and that's like looking for Hen's teeth. The federal reps have been gracious and met with us to discuss the idea, but without a driver within the MTA, you're going nowhere.
One MTA guy laughed when I asked the question,"Is there anybody in the organization that is measured on passenger satisfaction?" I met Katherine Lapp at a Long Island Association meeting last year, and she said that onboard internet access was going to be left to the discretion of the individual railroads. The first Metro-North guy that I demoed Wi-Fi to in November of 2002 said, "How come AT&T isn't coming to me with this?" The LIRR is drinking the 3G kool-aid peddled by the wireless carriers who say that everybody will have a cellular connection in their laptop in 2 years. One guy doesn't even return phone calls from me after I was referred to him by his boss.
The technology is the smallest issue. The same box we use on the bus can be inserted into the hole left by the removal of the RailCall phones, and we could probably deploy in about 90 days. The largest technology issue would be getting clean power from the train itself, but that's trivial. We work with a firm that did power supplies for the San Diego Trolleys, and they say it's easy. The most recent official reason for not doing it was the excuse that they are phasing out older cars, but of course we wouldn't deploy to those, we'd put them on the new ones, and install it in the older ones as they go through the overhaul process. So not every car would have wi-fi, but not every car has a bathroom, either.
The MTA is such a large organization, they don't want to work with a small firm such as ours, even though we have a system in operation and have more experience at running Wi-Fi nets than any other firm in the area. If they wait for the full fruition of 3G, they may wait forever and be shut out of a revenue source, both direct and indirect, because the carriers don't really need to rent much real estate from the MTA. Any additional fannies in the seats are more direct revenue from a ticket sold, more indirect from the revenue split on the Wi-Fi, and another car off the road, with all the social benefits that come from that. It's just such a no brainer, especially in the areas not served by electric trains, it mystifies me why all these doors are closed to my firm.
There's buckets of money left for 9/11 rebuilding, that could be used to strengthen the region's transportation system and ease the burden on the motor facilities. If I had $2 million to put free Wi-Fi on the LIRR, I could probably get more people to use the railroad in a year than the East Side Access Project will in 2010 when it's projected to be completed after Billions in costs."
Q. How would the MTA fund the build-out of the Wi-Fi network?
"The MTA wouldn't spend a dime, the provider would build out the network and do a revenue split, or at least that's the deal I proposed. Metro-North just issued an airport style RFP to build out a vendor-neutral cell/wi-fi network in Grand Central Terminal and the Park Avenue tunnels."
Thanks, Craig, for your time. Be sure to check out the Wi-RAN site for more information and updates about Wi-Fi and public transportation.
Citysearch now offers reviews of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, book stores and hotels in New York City with free wireless Internet access. By now, everybody knows that Bryant Park offers free Wi-Fi access -- but did you know that Coliseum Books (located across the street) also offers wireless Internet access in its "homey" cafe? (Hat tip: NewYorkology)
The Wi-Fi Salon, which is "dedicated to changing New York and improving its communities economically and socially through Wi-Fi technology," plans to create as many as 26 free wireless hot spots on the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side by the end of 2004. According to Crain's New York, the company is still putting the finishing touches on a business model that will enable it to break even within the next 18 months:
"The Wi-Fi Salon has not yet started generating revenues, but expects to make money from nearby companies that pay for Wi-Fi access to run voice-over-Internet-protocol systems, or pay to be included in a business directory that pops up when someone logs on to free Wi-Fi at a particular hot spot."
The company places a huge emphasis on community involvement, and with that in mind, Wi-Fi Salon invites New Yorkers to call or e-mail them with a story about how Wi-Fi has made a difference in their community.
According to Wi-Fi Net News, Boston is experimenting with Wi-Fi access in four subway stations: "Park Street, Downtown Crossing, Government Center, and State Street (and tunnels connecting stations) will have Wi-Fi access provided by InSite. The city may extend the network to the whole system." The fact that Boston could soon have Wi-Fi access throughout the entire subway system raises the obvious question: if Beantown can have Wi-Fi access in the subway, why not New York?
In the Wall Street Journal, Lee Gomes looks at the role of municipal governments in setting up city-wide wireless Internet networks. The problem that local governments are attempting to address, says Gomes, is that "the speeds at which houses can link up [to the Internet] has plateaued at current DSL and cable rates, badly lagging behind the speeds available in many other countries, notably in Asia."
With this mind, is government intervention of some kind required to bring broadband Internet access to its citizens? Philadelphia has already struggled with this issue, and now it appears that New York also will wrestle over the issue. Ordinarily, the Wall Street Journal would be aghast at the suggestion of government involvement. This case might be different, though:
"Incumbent players don't usually have an incentive to build these faster new networks because they are tied to their wired networks, which also deliver telephone and television services. And that's one reason that networking speeds in the U.S. are stuck in the rut they are in... It's easy to bash city governments as being full of maladroit bureaucrats eager to manhandle a new technology, and even economists who support municipal networks say cities shouldn't rush into them. But well-thought-out city plans could help everyone by acting as a catalyst and shaking up the status quo."
DeWitt Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has tapped 5G Wireless Solutions to deploy a Wi-Fi network throughout its Upper East Side high-rise facility. Apparently, 5G Wireless found a way to use only 7 indoor wireless access points to cover all 499 beds in the 17-story facility. (Not sure how this was done -- for now, we'll just speculate about the presence of outdoor access points) Not only will the long-term care patients at DeWitt now have wireless Internet access, the management of the facility will now be able to track more accurately (and in a more timely manner) the completion of nursing tasks.
Who said that Wi-Fi networks in New York City are not in the public interest? The New York Post tells the story of the laptop squatters who are clogging cafes (err, well, that's if you consider Starbucks a 'cafe') across the city. People stopping by cafes for a hot chocolate or coffee are finding that there are no seats available "because all the tables were occupied by people pecking at their Powerbooks." In some cases, power users are staying for 8-hour days at the local Starbucks, turning coffee shops into de facto offices.
While the story sounds a bit 2002-ish, there's no mistaking the fact that Wi-Fi-enabled coffee shops are becoming "the most popular destination for this new generation of cubicle-averse... entrepreneurs."
Business Week sounds off on the idea of municipal Wi-Fi in cities like Philadelphia and New York, emphasizing that city governments shouldn't be in the business of running wireless broadband networks. After sorting through a number of reasons -- ranging from network maintenance costs to cost overruns in rolling out other city-funded Internet access initiatives -- the piece questions whether Wi-Fi networks of any kind are even needed:
"Also, what I don't understand is, why we would want to have 135 square miles of Wi-Fi coverage in the first place? Sure, city-wide coverage sounds nice. But some of these hot spots might be never used (My elderly neighbors are unlikely to hook up to the Web any time soon). And in places like parks and public libraries where lots of people might want to use Wi-Fi, chances are that private companies like Wayport have already installed their access points. So, what's the point?"
Not surprisingly, Wi-Fi proponents like Glenn Fleishman are devoting quite a bit of bandwidth to dissecting the inconsistencies and fallacies of the Business Week piece. As Fleishman points out, "The fine folks at BusinessWeek seem to have fallen for tropes, sock puppets, and strawmen... " He then proceeds to attack each assumption of the anti-municipal Wi-Fi camp, item-by-item.
That price could be too steep for many consumers, though, warns Paid Content: "How much will consumers be willing to pay for premium content when they have to pay for the phone service and the V CAST subscription and what happens to consumer behavior after they get the first bill for their impulse phone buys? As a consumer, I'd be more likely to try some of the premium content if one or two downloads a month were part of the subscription."
According to the organizer of the Wireless Woodstock project, the free Wi-Fi service "would be ideal for seasonal tourists hoping to pick up their e-mail and access the Web. Like having a cyber-guide at your fingertips... applications such as guided town tours and festival events [could] use wireless signals." In addition, Woodstock plans to roll out a higher-speed, paid service that will appeal to individual businesses in the commercial district. Total cost? A very reasonable $10,000.
It's official: New York City is developing the largest citywide mobile network in the U.S. According to Washington Technology, "New York next month will choose at least one contractor to test technologies as a first step toward building a citywide, mobile wireless communications network. The nine-year project would go far beyond the wireless pilot projects under way in most U.S. cities, creating the largest mobile wireless network at the municipal level in the nation."
It's sure to be controversial, however, with some analysts questioning whether "the Big Apple is doing the right thing by awarding a multiyear deal at a time when the technology is evolving at an extremely rapid pace." The total cost of the project is unknown, with estimates ranging from several hundred million dollars to more than $1 billion. (That figure seems absurdly high, though, considering that Philadelphia unveiled plans for a citywide Wi-Fi network in September at a cost closer to $10 million.)
Glenn Reynolds (aka "Instapundit") makes it clear that Wi-Fi and EVDO should be able to co-exist. That may not happen, though, if Verizon continues to push EVDO as a faster, better alternative to Wi-Fi. Instapundit winds up the article with an appeal for a multi-layered approach to wireless broadband Internet: "It seems likely that services like EVDO and Wi-Fi will coexist comfortably for quite a while, because they're fundamentally different products. That's fine with me, since I'm all for diversity, technological and otherwise. I hope that the Verizon folks will realize that, rather than getting carried away with efforts to "bury" Wi-Fi under EVDO. With multiple approaches, everybody wins."
To get up to speed on the EVDO/Wi-Fi debate, check out Glenn Fleishman's Wi-Fi Networking News entry from January 13 as well as this piece from MSNBC's Gary Krakow, in which he test drives EVDO in New York City.
As part of its Future of Wireless series, Corante is interviewing a number of top-flight entrepreneurs and thinkers about how new wireless technologies and applications are affecting everyday life. First up: a chat with the two co-founders of NYC-based dodgeball, the mobile social networking service which aims to coordinate social interactions between mobile users. It's "Friendster for your cellphone" - and it's been mentioned in places like New York Times Magazine, Fast Company, Newsweek and PC World.
Say, for example, that you spot Janet Jackson at brunch one day. That's a prime example of when you'd want to alert your friends via dodgeball: "What dodgeball is really good at is altering the paths you normally follow through the city. We hear this all the time from our users - the first time you get pinged with a dodgeball message telling you that a friend is at the bar across the street or a restaurant you passed 20 steps ago is something that changes the way you experience the city..."
The travel industry is making it easier than ever before for leisure travelers to "stumble upon" Wi-Fi hot spots. According to the New York Times, car rental agencies such as Hertz and Avis are the "latest to jump on the wireless bandwagon." The two companies have both started programs to let their customers surf the Internet in or near the rental car lobbies.
Thinking of traveling anytime soon? The article suggests that you check out Jiwire.com, which maps the locations of more than 21,000 publicly available hot spots in the United States -- including 822 in New York. In fact, according to a handy little chart provided by Jiwire.com, New York City has the world's third largest concentration of Wi-Fi hot spots, trailing only London and Tokyo.
The only company bold enough to challenge Starbucks, store-for-store, in New York City is Dunkin' Donuts. That's right, the orange-and-plum-colored donut giant "has begun a major push to expand in Manhattan and across the region. The goal is to create a total of 200 outlets in Manhattan over the next few years, at least matching Starbucks store for store."
However, as the New York Times points out, the newest Dunkin' Donuts outposts will not have wireless connections, cool music or "a sense of being at a destination, a place to hang out." At best, the new locations will have a "few chairs." With that kind of skimpin' on the rent attitude, it'll be hard to win over office workers who use Starbucks as a home-away-from-home. Moreover, in status-conscious New York, the down-market, "working class" image of Dunkin' Donuts is a definite liability.
UPDATE: Actually, it looks like Dunkin' Donuts is giving some thought to wireless Internet connectivity -- Glenn Fleishman points out that the company is experimenting with Wi-Fi in a few Chicago-area stores: "Starbucks, theyre not, but they offer cheap coffee (which is generally pretty good in my experience across the country) and piping hot fresh donuts without the thousand pounds of extra sugar (just a few hundred) layered on Krispy Kremes... Dunkin Donuts would be an interesting addition to the Wi-Fi landscape because their locations tend to be in my travels in parts of towns in which there is less of an accumulation of the kinds of businesses that already provide wireless access."
Verizon Wireless has completed the last stages of a $475 million capital outlay to enhance the company's wireless network in the New York Metro area. The $475 million investment included updating cell sites and other technology to improve call quality, increase coverage areas and allow a variety of advanced services such as wireless broadband computing, text and video messaging and other applications.
A senior Verizon executive comments on why the company chose to spend close to $1 billion over a five-year period to upgrade its wireless network: "The New York Metro region is an especially important market due to its high concentration of corporate and business customers and tech-savvy consumers. We're working hard and investing millions every month to be able to satisfy the ever-growing demand for the latest wireless technology."
There's definitely pent-up demand for wireless Internet access in New York City (thanks Gizmodo, for helping to draw attention to the issue). At the same time, there's also a growing realization by elected officials that wireless Internet access can generate economic growth and solve a number of public sector problems. So why aren't more people jumping on the Wi-Fi bandwagon? The problem is that broadband providers view Wi-Fi as a direct economic assault on their bottom line: "The idea of local governments giving wireless access free to citizens has drawn fire from high-speed, broadband service providers, which believe the move encroaches on their business."
Philadelphia faced a number of bureaucratic problems in rolling out a citywide Wi-Fi network (hint: Verizon wasn't too keen on the initiative), and cities like New York would likely face the same kinds of roadblocks and obstacles if they decide to opt for publicly-funded Wi-Fi access. There is help on the way, though: "New York is on the verge of awarding multiple pilot projects to systems integrators that would serve as the precursor to a full-scale rollout of a citywide mobile wireless network. The pilot projects would be awarded to teams led by IBM, Motorola and Northrop Grumman IT... The full-scale project is estimated to be worth between $500 million to $1 billion."
There's been a lot of talk about "broadband black holes" in important outer borough neighborhoods like Red Hook, the Brooklyn Naval Yard and Hunts Point. Now, the New York City Council is trying to do something about it. At a meeting in Brooklyn, Agostino Cangemi of the city's Information Technology and Telecommunications department mentioned wireless as the "only solution the city can take on." According to a city official visiting from Philadelphia, "Wireless really gives you the opportunity ... to put technology into neighborhoods that could never afford it." Among those testifying at the City Council hearing was the CEO of Tropos Networks, who explained how metro-scale Wi-Fi and WiMAX mesh could help ensure that all outer borough residents and businesses have access to affordable broadband Internet service.
Manhattan-based Zingy, the second-biggest ring tone marketer in the U.S., is making a big bet on future growth in the consumer ring tone market, says Crain's New York. The U.S. now accounts for $250 million of the $4 billion global worldwide market -- and that number could reach $500 million in 2005. While Zingy controls 25% of the U.S. ring tone market, the company's importance as an important middleman between music companies and the major wireless carriers could come under pressure: "Until now, music companies and carriers have been thrilled by the new revenue stream, but as the U.S. ring-tone market matures, they may start to wonder how to leave out the expensive go-between."
Ever had one of those frustrating moments when cell phones go off at inopportune times during movies or other events? You know, the kind of moment when Mr. Inconsiderate Cell Phone Man pops up? Well, "a barrage of cell phones and walkie-talkies erupted during an appearance at a Queens school," and Mayor Bloomberg was not so pleased. In fact, he immediately promised to ban cell phones at any and all upcoming appearances. (The mayor's press secretary later clarified Bloomberg's position -- he would not ban cell phones outright, he would only request that reporters place their phones on "vibrate.")
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has selected Unisys Corporation's CommHub (a secure wireless technology) to help its emergency response teams coordinate activities. Over the past six months, a number of other municipalities have also experimented with wireless technologies and now consider them a "critical part in managing emergency response for fire, police, and medical personnel."
CommHub "enables the Port Authority's first response teams to stay connected with emergency operations centers and each other during incidents at airports, bridges, tunnels, bus terminals, seaports and other facilities it manages." The Unisys CommHub can be mounted directly onto an emergency vehicle or hand carried by emergency personnel.
After mourning the demise of Ricochet, the article takes Verizon Broadband Access for a test drive. The results are impressive: "Speed-wise, Verizons EV-DO connectivity lived up to its promises. I easily obtained DSL speeds in my home, on the street and even inside some businesses where people were fascinated by Verizons accomplishment. In New York, the Sierra Wireless/Verizon combination worked the first time, every time."
According to the New York Daily News, the city agency that regulates pay phones has recently banned ads on all new kiosks in Manhattan below 96th Street. The loss of $25 million in annual advertising revenue could be the death knell for city pay phone operators; moreover, pay phone operators are already threatening that the move could "remove incentives to add new services like Internet phones and Wi-Fi."
The latest forms of mobile content, says the New York Times, are "micro-lit, phone soap operas and made-for-mobile dramas that can be absorbed in less time than it takes to flick through a book introduction." Among the companies already offering "cellphone-size literature": Wireless Ink of Cold Spring, NY. The article also hints that big New York publishing houses could get in on the action soon, once the early mobile content pioneers provide proof of concept.
Lower Manhattan will soon boast a new ultra high-speed wireless network, courtesy of GigaBeam Technology, The Hub at Sixth, and real estate firm Rudin Management Company. The terms of the deal: "The Hub at Sixth, a carrier-neutral co-location and interconnection facility set up in downtown New York by Rudin Management in 2000, will use GigaBeam's technology to deploy a virtual fiber wireless metropolitan area network serving Rudin's tenants, carriers and other enterprises." No financial details were disclosed. (Hat tip: Wi-Fi Networking News)
A graduate student in urban planning from NYU asks: Why can't the MTA put Wi-Fi on its LIRR and Metro-North commuter trains? It could be a win-win for passengers as well as the cash-strapped MTA: "Market studies repeatedly indicate that ridership would increase tremendously if Wi-Fi were provided." New York is apparently lagging behind other cities such as London, Paris, Seattle, the Bay Area and Tokyo -- all of which provide Wi-Fi access for commuters. Heck, Lufthansa even provides it for its airline passengers now. For now, New York Wi-Fi users will have to settle for the Hampton Jitney.
Cool feature from Yahoo! Maps: using the company's SmartView technology, it's now possible to populate a map with nearby Wi-Fi networks. Imagine, for example, that you're running to catch a train at Grand Central and want to know all the nearest wireless Internet nodes. So you generate a map of the streets around Grand Central. Then, you click on "Wi-Fi hotspots" at the bottom of the map (look for the Intel Centrino logo). Presto! The map is suddenly populated with a swarming mass of Intel Centrino logos.
Most wireless laptop users already know that NYC Wireless is a great resource for tracking down free wireless networks throughout the city. (117 wireless nodes and counting...). Now, there's a new service available for NYC Wireless users concerned about unscrupulous hackers: SafeMail, a new secure email service for the wireless community.