Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

New York's Chelsea Neighborhood Is the Latest Free Public Wifi Experiment

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, January 8 2013

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on hand this morning to announce free wifi covering all the outdoor areas in a stretch of Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, from Eighth Avenue west and from Gansevoort Street to 19th Street.

The announcement is the latest gesture by the city that indicates Internet access has become, if not a necessity, then a basic perk of city life. Coverage in Chelsea joins paid service coming to New York City subway stations; wifi provided by AT&T in many public parks; free wifi in several public spaces in the Financial District provided by the Downtown Alliance, which also manages a business improvement district; DUMBO in Brooklyn, the first neighborhood in New York to offer free wifi on this scale; parts of Red Hook; and a loose collection of hotspots throughout the city.

If BIDs are the type of organization expected to set up free outdoor wifi in a neighborhood, that puts Internet access in a class of local benefit that also includes sidewalk trash removal, compacting garbage cans, e-waste recycling programs and map-dispensing private security officers.

While Bloomberg and Sen. Chuck Schumer spoke at the announcement, credit for the actual work goes to Google, which has had a New York headquarters opposite Chelsea Market for several years, and to The Chelsea Improvement Company. Twenty-nine antennas are expected to blanket the neighborhood's outdoor areas in Internet coverage, serving an audience that includes 2,000 residents of the New York City Housing Authority's Fulton Houses development, Google Chief Information Officer Ben Fried said Tuesday morning.

Google is sponsoring this network for its first two years.

Earlier in the 2000s, several big cities began to dream of ways to provide municipal wifi. In Philadelphia, for example, Earthlink built a $17 million network that was intended to provide low-cost Internet access throughout the city. Then the company announced in 2008 that it was scrapping the plan. While Google's name on Tuesday's announcement might bring hope that another revolutionary Internet idea, Google-provided gigabit access via Google Fiber, was headed New York's way, Mashable's Alex Fitzpatrick reports that is absolutely not the case.

But while a patchwork of BID-funded, smaller-scale networks seems to be sprouting in New York in a bottom-up way, Schumer suggested that perhaps some federal fertilizer was in order. Capital New York's Dana Rubinstein captures the relevant exchange between Schumer and Bloomberg:

"It's not very expensive, so the mayor and I are talking maybe we can do this for the whole city," said Schumer, who had downloaded his talking points to his iPad using the new Wi-Fi.

"With federal money, we'd love to do it," said Bloomberg.

"Excellent," said Schumer. "It would be a smidgen of what Sandy is costing us."

This post has been updated.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

More