Wi-Fi shouldn’t be a toll road

I don’t fly to Boston much, but I’m still interested in the fight going on between Logan airport and Continental Airlines over public Wi-Fi. The airport — which is run by the Massachusetts Port Authority — shut down Continental’s wireless network last fall, and the airline has asked Congress to intervene.

Massport says it wants to avoid interference from a bunch of competing wireless signals, but the airlines (including American Airlines) argue that what it really wants is a monopoly on Wi-Fi, for which it charges $8 an hour. I’m with Fred Wilson (and others) on this: Wi-Fi should be a form of public infrastructure, like roads or bridges.

I also like an analogy I first saw in a Wired article by Paul Boutin: Wi-Fi is a condiment, like sugar or cream, or salt and pepper. Providing it is a service that you hope will make people want to come back to your establishment. Hardly anyone charges for the use of their washrooms either — not even airports.

There’s more discussion at WSJ writer Jeremy Wagstaff’s blog and at WiFi Networking News. Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet has also posted on it, as has my friend Rob Hyndman.

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