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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

Free gateways to wireless Net

By Burt Lum

If you took a moment to ask what fundamental feature of the Internet keeps drawing you back, what would your answer be? Free stuff! Once you access the Internet, one general imperative is to seek out free stuff, such as information, music, programs, pictures and videos. Since the early days of the Internet, this free flow of information has been a fundamental building block.

This flow was not meant to be one way. The original nature of the Internet arose from the concept of sharing: Open collaborative communities can result in technological and social advancement. In the technical community concepts like open standards and open source gave rise to Ethernet, a popular standard for computer networking, and Linux, an open-source operating system.

In the wireless arena, there is a groundswell of activity revolving around a new standard, IEEE 802.11b, more commonly known as WiFi (short for "wireless fidelity") or, for Mac users, Airport. What's important is less the technical details than the widespread adoption of this technology.

Today you can go to your favorite computer store and buy a WiFi card for your computer and wirelessly connect to the Net at megabit speeds.

Commercial WiFi gateways are popping up in businesses, hotels and retail outlets like Starbucks. But what is more interesting are the free gateways that are springing up across the country. There's a grass-roots movement under way to create free wireless community access points. You can find a clearinghouse of information at www.personaltelco.net. There is an altruistic sense of community and the potential for viral growth, all to the obvious chagrin of the telcos.

PersonalTelco lists the many communities that have started free wireless gateways. At the time of this writing, I checked out sites in Hawai'i and the Bay Area. Both were down for repair or inaccessible. You get what you pay for. But in New York they are already up to their fifth access point and growing. It's the Internet at its best, evolving and morphing right before our eyes. ;-)

Burt Lum is one click away at burt@brouhaha.net.