Shift in the image of open Wi-Fi access

by Andy Oram

Related link: http://news.com.com/2100-1033-965070.html



The article cited above, seemingly just a kind of commercial press release, signals a
subtle victory in the movement to make Wi-Fi access a form of
universal Internet service.


Warchalking is a public acknowledgement that free Internet access is
going on over Wi-Fi. A lot of commentators in government and the media
have labeled both warchalking and the type of access it promotes in
the most scathing terms as a form of theft, as an intrusion into
corporate networks, and even as a national security threat! It
actually can be all these things, when it isn't set up properly. But
it can also be a positive force.


Many businesses, such as Starbucks, recognize the value of offering
Internet access. Schlotzsky's Deli has gone a symbolic step
further by adopting the language of the community network movement. It
shows the beginnings of a new view, as when politicians or TV
personalities started to show they were hip by picking up phrases from
rock or protest songs.


(Update, Nov. 13: A reader has alerted me to another news-worthy aspect of Schlotzsky's announcement: they are offering the service free, whereas other establishments require a fee. That makes the announcement more significant, but this weblog is commenting on just the "warchalking" aspect.)


There's an important difference between a private LAN using wireless
(where security is admittedly of critical importance) and a wireless
node provider who deliberately offers free service. This service, of
course, can be used to cloak Internet users in anonymity. But who will
dare to stand up and say that we should prevent anonymity?