it’s better in finland

Last month, Finland became the first country in the world to declare broadband access a legal right.

This in contrast to the United States, where we’re gouged for access to broadband, either in our homes, on our cellphones, and – most egregiously – at hotels. Honestly, I don’t understand how hotels are allowed to get away with the prices they charge for Internet access.

I’m attending a conference in Philadelphia next week, hosted by my organization, and we are choosing not to pay the cost of Internet access for our workshops because of what the venue would charge us. If the free market is always right, as Milton Friedman has argued, then why aren’t hotels undercutting one another and offering reasonable rates for broadband? I’ve stayed at hotels that offer free broadband access – though they tend to be smaller, and in smaller cities or towns – so I know it’s financially feasible.

Which brings me to airports. Again, many smaller airports offer free broadband. And even some larger ones, like Denver. (At DIA, the wireless network is supported through ads that pop up when you log in. Who wouldn’t sit through ads for free wireless?) At least with hotels, there is the potential for competition someday, however unlikely. But what incentive is there for an airport like SFO to offer free broadband when it is the only game in town?

I realize that with the growing popularity of smartphones, free wireless is becoming slightly less critical in these places. For people with smartphones. That means, as usual, the less privileged have to do without, must be disconnected.

Whatever happened to movements like Philly Wi-fi, in which the idea was to make an entire city one big hotspot with free wireless for all? I understand that efforts like Philly Wi-fi face stiff opposition from telecommunications giants who want to be able to continue to bloat their profit margins.

Perhaps we’d have a fighting chance against these corporate interests if we as a country were also to adopt the stance that access to broadband is a right.

Way to go, Finland. Let’s hope you’ve started a worldwide revolution.

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