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Rural areas wanting Wi-Fi may need to initiate their own service.
If we want to understand how wireless networking will expand in the future, a U. of I. professor suggests we need to look in the past at how the telephone became a fixture around the world.
The product's ubiquity is not the result of inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Nor is it the work of the phone companies who, in a paean to profits, initially ignored rural, isolated areas. Obviously those areas have phone service today, so what happened?
Christian Sandvig, an assistant professor of speech communication, says that those living in areas without service started it themselves. He argues the same thing is happening today with the expansion of wireless networking, or Wi-Fi, short for wireless fidelity.
Wi-Fi lets people access the Internet without having to be plugged in. So-called Wi-Fi hot spots are most often found at coffee shops, libraries, and schools. In the hopes that expanding Wi-Fi will lead to economic development, cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia are working on covering their towns with wireless networking.
"It's important that cities like Chicago develop Wi-Fi projects because this pushes telecommunications companies to offer services in more areas," Sandvig says.
Smaller cities such as Champaign-Urbana are also working on expanding service. In Sandvig's Internet Law and Policy class, students use PDAs with special software to map out where the hot spots are in the twin cities. Those areas have "been increasing dramatically," Sandvig says.
As that expansion happens across communities large and small, it's likely one day wireless networking could become as widespread as telephone service. As in the case of phones and also cable television, larger companies may buy up the smaller ones so in the end there are only a few providers. "Just because things are disorderly now doesn't mean they'll remain that way," Sandvig says.
By Scott Spilky
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