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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Up in the air
The Magazine's review of blogs
By Alan Connor

One subject that's been occupying minds in the better class of blogs recently has been this: why can't a chap connect to the wireless connection in his hotel without having to pay through the nose?

It's becoming especially irksome for those bloggers who travel a lot, either to address business folk on the topic of "what are these new-fangled bloggings we've been hearing about?", or because they're business folk themselves who are using blogs for work or pleasure.

Über-blogger Cory Doctorow writes at Boing Boing about his frustration with European hotels:

    "If I stay in one more hotel where the WiFi in the lobby costs an addition $20 a day over the $30 a day that the WiFi in the room costs, I'm burning it down."

The sceptical might wonder: isn't this an over-reaction, a issue of interest to the technically over-savvy, but of no more importance than whether the jacuzzi has got enough bubbles?

Weblog Watch is the BBC News Magazine's weekly review of blogs
Well, yes and no. Certainly, the bloggers discussing this are towards the cutting end of the edge. Andy Abramson, for example, is so snazzy he doesn't even type his thoughts on the matter, preferring to use a voice e-mail service.

But wireless is not a mere fad for those who like gadgets. From Peruvian valleys to Nepalese yak farms, communication increasingly means the net, and the net increasingly means wireless.

And both the "digerati" and those new to the web are complaining of the same thing: apparently arbitrary controls.

So, in the West, we see cheap motels offering free wifi while four-star palaces charge for it, and bizarre situations where you choose between paying 400 to the hotel you're staying in or piggy-backing off the free service from the rival chain across the road. In fact, you'd be better off again in Estonia or the South Pacific, where it's free everywhere on the island of Niue.

Meanwhile, over in Laos, we see an initiative to bring a bicycle- and wifi-powered world to a Laos village previously without electricity, which ran into problems when the government decided that if wireless had arrived, there'd better be some sort of impromptu bureaucracy to surround it.

It shouldn't be a surprise, perhaps. Wireless is just another part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and governments and corporations have been accustomed to carving this up and charging for it for years.

Tony Hancock
Controls on the spectrum are no longer the concerns of just a few
Ninety years, in fact. Or at least, when RMS Titanic sank before anyone responded to her distress calls, we got a new set of international laws governing who could broadcast what, and where.

But there are bloggers who are arguing that these laws and controls are all out of date. It's not short-wave any more: it's neat little digital signals, meaning that scarcity's on the way out as a problem - and with it could go much of the controls and the cost.

One such blogger is Stanford's Prof. Lawrence Lessig, who's aware that thinking about whether spectrum is now a utility - or maybe a natural resource - is a new one to most readers, and he admonishes the wary:

    "If that sounds boring, then you really need to pay a bit more attention to the next extraordinarily important policy issue affecting innovation and growth."

Once you've got a sniff of Prof. Lessig's proposal - "a world of innovation and growth when anywhere and everywhere you could always be on, connected via wireless" - the frustrations of the hotel guests are more understandable.

After all, if they can't sort it out in swanky London boudoirs, what hope is there for the yak farmer?

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