Two approaches to public Wi-Fi: How they're doing it in the Maldives and NYC

Wed, 2016-01-27 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

Smart cities are connected cities. That isn’t limited to connecting machines and sensors to the Internet. It means the residents are connected too.

New York, one of the largest cities in the world, could not be more different from the Maldives, a nation of small coral atolls in the Indian Ocean, but both are undertaking public Wi-Fi projects to get their residents better connected.

Their approaches could serve as guides or lessons learned for other cities considering the same.

Bringing Wi-Fi to the under-served
The Maldives are known for beaches and blue lagoons — not Wi-Fi — but Council Lead Partner Ooredoo is working to give the islands all three. The initiative is beginning in the capital city of Malé, providing hotspots in areas where people are likely to congregate.

Wi-Fi “hangout areas” are being installed in hospitals, ferry terminals, the youth center, café’s, and so on. The service is designed to give everyone gets the basics for free. Each customer gets 50 mb of data per day, enough for email, social media and to catch up on news. If they need more data for streaming video or other high-bandwidth services, they can subscribe.

Additionally, Ooredoo has installed a telecenter at Iskandhar School. Students get free access to a number of educational websites, allowing them to benefit from interactive learning.

New use for old payphones
New York’s public Wi-Fi involves brining new life to old payphones. The city’s unused payphones are giving way to high-tech kiosks that provide passers-by with local information as well as free Wi-Fi and phone calls.

It sounds expensive, but the $200 million project will actually pay the city. The work being done by Council Lead Partner Qualcomm and other companies is being paid for by advertisements, including video display ads that will run on the kiosks.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with advertisements, but it’s important to consider how they will be perceived. For all the benefits of the LinkNYC project, it was the subject of a scathing editorial titled “The heavy price we pay for ‘free’ Wi-Fi.

The author, Benjamin Dean, Fellow for Internet Governance and Cyber-security at Columbia University, argues that people highly value their privacy and only use free services that collect personal information for advertising purposes because they don’t understand what’s truly going on behind the scenes. Burying that usage in onerous terms and conditions doesn’t help.

Several people quickly corrected Dean, pointing out that your Internet browsers and even Internet service that you pay for at home or your mobile device collect much more and more personal information. But it is a reminder that people will find something to complain about and you may want to think about privacy and its messaging before you turn your service on.

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