There’s a lot of excitement around the world, both in undeveloped and developed countries about “free information infrastructure” and about free or inexpensive access to the Internet. The Open Knowledge Foundation Network (OKFN) is one promoter of this concept – it came to my attention this week. An example of the free access principle is the wireless mesh in upper Dharamsala, India (well, almost free), and the rumored possibility that Google may provide free Internet access for the citizens of more than one city in California.
The wireless mesh in Dharamsala I have already mentioned. And I will say more about it as the broth thickens. The mesh will be cost-shared by organizations that use it, but beyond that it’s basically free. Fred Pook is a wireless activist active in India who recently visited Dharamsala, spent time with Yahel Ben-David, and with others in the DITG crew – you should read his report. The photo is of Fred Pook, Tim Kiely, and Phuntsok Dorjee at the Tibetan Tech Center, taken by Yahel Ben-David and you can read his comments at the Tib-Tec blog.
Looks like there may soon be a specific proposal to hold a world summit on free information infrastructures in Dharamsala, probably during 2006 year.
So also in the “free access” area, it has been reported that Google will bring free wireless access to Redwood City and they’ve already bid on bringing universal access to San Francisco.
I think it’s obvious that what will ultimately happen, of course, is that the “free” network will require some financial support, so there will have to be some charge (or advertising, or charges for premium service) for access at some point, but I think the unifying principle that is really worth looking at (TCV-TC/Tib-Tec, and Google) is that people may want to remove the “profit” from such networks and make them belong to the community rather than to private enterprise.