Can commercial and community wireless networks co-exist?

by Schuyler Erle

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Boingo, a wireless startup brought to you by Earthlink founder Sky Dayton, seeks to serve as a commercial aggregator of hotspot bandwidth, but clearly they have missed the point of community networking:

[Boingo] has declined to offer node operators free access (limited or unlimited) to the Boingo service. In exchange, Boingo is
only offering promotion of the group's public network.

"There's no real incentive for me to do it in the first place," said Dustin Goodwin, a member of and an operator of a node on
Cornelia Street in Manhattan. As for the publicity value of being part of Boingo, "I don't think we need Boingo for that. I prefer the distribution method that exists. It seems to be working okay. I just feel
Boingo is getting more out of it."

If that wasn't bad enough, perhaps even more dubious is the quote from Oren Michels, CEO of Wi-Finder, who reportedly says:

"It all boils down to: 'you get what you pay for.' A strong community
network gets people to try the technology. But once you try it, it gets
addictive. At a certain point, the community people will get tired of
giving it away or the quality of service will degrade to the point where
people are more than willing to pay."

Now, I think Mr. Michaels is wrong on both counts. The community people will never get tired of promoting freedom
(you know, freedom?), and the quality of service will more likely degrade to the point where no sane person will pay for it. Selling services on an unlicensed band is begging for trouble -- you can't provide quality-of-service
guarantees. That's *why* the FCC makes a mint selling public spectrum to private interests. Where do they come up with these ideas? (Speaking of which, when will the press catch on that the really interesting thing about 802.11b isn't hotspots, it's paranets?)

How do you feel about Boingo refusing hotspot operators free access to other affiliated hotspots?