Free Internet access as a standard public service facility? The Big Apple, which in many respects is already a smart city, has begun installing a public WiFi system that is over 100 times faster than the typical public network.
In a post last November announcing the launch of Internet.org, a platform which offers people in India the opportunity to connect to the Internet free of charge for the use of basic online services, Mark Zuckerberg declared his view that free access to the World Wide Web should be regarded as a form of public service along the lines of city libraries and public hospitals.
Now New York City seems to be setting an example. The city is installing an ultra-powerful WiFi system, which will provide free Internet access up to gigabit speeds, i.e. over 100 times faster than the average public WiFi. Rollout of the LinkNYC initiative started a few weeks ago and in the long term there will be a network of over 7,500 state-of-the-art public connection points called ‘Links’ throughout the city, replacing the old public pay telephone booths. These ‘Links’ will have USB ports so that people can recharge their electronic devices, and built-in screens so they can browse the Internet. The network, stretching across the five boroughs of NYC, will be financed by advertising revenues, and is expected to generate more than $500 million in revenue for the City over the next twelve years.
Meanwhile Google is pushing ahead with its Google Fiber initiative, designed to bring fibre optic cable communications to the whole of the United States. The Mountain View internet giant is seeking to extend the project, which was originally launched in three US cities – Kansas City, Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah – to around twenty cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles.