I arrived in Ocean City, New Jersey for a visit with some family on Wednesday night. After dinner it was time to check some email and things on the web so I got out my RJ-11 phone cable and plugged it into the phone jack in the wall. Then it occurred to me to try Boingo instead. Sure enough there was a strong WiFi signal. The SSID of the wireless access point was "linksys" and encryption was not turned on. I ran some speed tests and found it to me about 300,000 bits per second. Not fantastic but more six times faster than a normal dial-up connection — and it was "always on". The short visit will be mostly Trivial Pursuit, crossword puzzles, walks on the Boardwalk, and eating too much food but when there are a few minutes to check the news, the markets, email, or write a blog it is sure nice to have a great Internet connection.
So, where was the bandwidth coming from? No idea. Who was paying for it? Same answer. Is it stealing to use it? Debatable. West Avenue in Ocean City is lined with two story homes which people rent to others. Someone downstairs, next door, or across the street has either a cable modem or DSL and a Linksys Wireless Access Point. They likely did not intend for their bandwidth to be "borrowed" but on the other hand they didn’t turn on their WEP encryption to block others from using it. If I had known who the "provder" of the connection was I would have been happy to pay for using it. In a way it is like finding a $10 bill on the street. If we knew who it belonged to most of us would be happy to return it.
The bigger issue is community based wireless. There have been stoires in this weblog and in other places about small communities to had no broadband and took the matter into their own hands and deployed their own broadband services. This is happening around the world. If the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce encouraged lessors to put WAPs in their rental properties they could perhaps make it a hallmark of Ocean City. "Take your summer vacation in the community which offers high speed Internet access to renters" could potentially give them a competitive edge over Atlantic City or Cape May.
For some, vacation from the Internet is part of the plan and that is OK. However, for more and more people having "always on" high speed access is something they expect to have wherever they are.