Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A bold expansion of Wi-Fi and its implications

A month teaching in Italy meant not only lots of gelatto, pasta and wine, but dealing with a country struggling with what to do about wireless Internet access. Wi-Fi is rare and the nation's 3-G network was spotty. All this led to some changes in the way I sampled media. For example, the iPad was virtually useless since the spotty 3-G signal and lack of Wi-Fi meant that most of its links didn't work.

But that's not the case here where Wi-Fi is spreading like wildfire -- the latest is that Taco Bells will offer free Wi-Fi as part of a huge multimedia package just announced -- and it set me to thinking about how closely tied distribution and media success are. This, of course, supports the Obama administration's drive to expand Wi-Fi nationally (even though our state's no-nothings are trying to stop its spread) and the growing use of 3-G and 4-G networks.

I know my iPhone's range has extended my media options. I thought of how its changed the other day while checking my email during the wait for my order at Kopps.

At the same time, I noticed while sitting in the Rome airport waiting for my flight back that, even though Wi-Fi and 3-G were available, almost all the waiting passengers were consuming paper: books, magazines and newspapers. It demonstrated that even though instantly-updated media gratification is available, it's not always the best kind. My three-month old New Yorker was what I wanted to read, so I did.

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