Is WiFi a Man-Given Right?

Photo by gibsonsgolfer CC license via

Early in the summer, we took a trip to Europe. This my first time using the Miami International Airport. I had my two-month-old iPad (3rd generation) ready to give it the full mobile test – how comfortable will it be for use in airports, for reading and gaming on planes, and for doing work while abroad? The iPad passed the test, but the airports didn’t do so well.

Let me give you a short background of my traveling experience, so you know where I’m coming from. In the past 7 years I have traveled to San Francisco, Las Vegas, throughout the US East Coast, Italy, France, Barcelona, London, and South Africa. Miami had its many challenges, but I will focus on the technology aspects.

This was the first airport I have ever been to that did not offer free WiFi. To access their network there were paid rates by minute and hour. This was completely shocking to me, almost scandalous. Since I couldn’t dip too far into my offline activities that were reserved for the 9-hour plane ride, I had some time to think. I wondered if this was an anomaly, part of an already infuriating airport experience, or a new trend among travel ports. Was a getting a glimpse into a bleak future, a WiFi wasteland?

When I think about WiFi, it is always associated with the words “free” and “public.” This is thanks to many restaurants, coffee shops, and retailers who have been offering internet access free for years. Many large shopping malls also offer the free connection. As mentioned earlier, I have also experienced this public service at airports and some train stations. The precedent for free WiFi has been set by these businesses and organizations.

Given the atrocious airport where I was having this experience (can you tell I really dislike that airport?), I attributed it to a small pocket of WiFi dictatorship. Of course, I had to test this theory and try for WiFi once we landed in Paris. There was WiFi, but not free. Despite this, the city itself had signs in many areas claiming free, public WiFi. Unfortunately we were unable to connect to any of the hotspots with an iPhone. Even though we prepared it for international use, I wonder if there was still something about the American phone that was preventing the connection. At least the Parisian government valued public WiFi even if their airport did not.

The paid WiFi at the airports was still bothering me. I thought back to my time in New York. Free WiFi has been added to many of the public parks in that city. I also recently read about an initiative to install free hotspots at the city’s payphones. In addition, I now had evidence from Europe, that WiFi is an urban, public service. Even the $70-a-night hotels along i95 have free WiFi in the guest rooms.

I guess time will tell whether WiFi stays a public right, or moves in the direction of paid service.

Is WiFi a natural right? Is it a public service or a product? I would like to hear from readers about your opinions and experiences in different locations? Where have you found free WiFi? Where has it cost you money?


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