Having free Wi-Fi access is certainly a great luxury, whether you’re a telecommuter or you need to get online while on vacation. To enjoy this, you usually have to head to the local library or coffee shop. But some major cities throughout the nation want to make city-sponsored Wi-Fi access more widespread. In fact, the six cities below are leading the charge in doing exactly that.
Chattanooga already has one of the fastest, publically owned Internet services at 1GB, now they’re ahead of the game again in terms of free public access. NOOGANET, as it’s known, is available throughout government-owned properties around the city and is accessible to anyone with a Wi-Fi capable device. The city first implemented NOOGANET throughout 18 family development centers in the city and they continue to expand it to more public spaces. It’s the model most of cities should probably be striving for at this time.
San Francisco, one of the leading technological hubs in the U.S., has helped lead the charge by offering free Wi-Fi in 32 public spaces. The city received a $600,000 gift from Google in 2013 that was used to help build the infrastructure and test the networks. Access is available to all residents and visitors in popular areas including Huntington Park, Alamo Square, from Market Street to the Castro and Union Square. The city plans to continue adding on more locations as funds become available. Speeds average roughly 10 to 15 Mbps. If you’re interested in logging on, just look for the #SFWiFi network in your Wi-Fi connections list.
Los Angeles hasn’t quite secured citywide municipal broadband yet, but it’s on its way. In June, the city council voted to start accepting bids for companies willing to provide the service for residents. Officials have identified more than 100 points throughout the city to install fiber hubs. A single hub would reportedly be capable of sending signals to reach 20,000 homes or businesses, so this will have a pretty good reach.
New York City
There are currently about 8,500,000 people living in New York City, so providing free Wi-Fi access to all of them is a large undertaking. First up, providers are offering hotspots in major parks, like Union Square Park and Bryant Park. Different neighborhoods are working at building out Wi-Fi hotspots, like the Harlem Free Wi-Fi Network, to help locals get online.
The most ambitious project is in the works. The city’s LinkNYC will build 10,000 pillars around the city that will send out free Wi-Fi to the people in the surrounding areas. CityBridge, the company contracted to build the hubs, will spend roughly $200 million to set up the pillars in each of the five boroughs in return for ad space. Speeds are expected to reach 1GB, meaning you could theoretically download a two-hour video in under 30 seconds. In addition to providing free Wi-Fi access to residents, the project is expected to generate more than $500 million in revenue and create 150 jobs.
Chicago is trying out several different ways to bring free Wi-Fi to the area, including turning people’s homes into hotspots. While this didn’t really take off, the city did install Wireless Internet Zones in the 80 public libraries and two of its biggest public recreation areas, Daley Plaza and Millennium Park. If a Chicagoan is looking to access free Wi-Fi and isn’t near one of these areas, they can check out free Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to three weeks at a time. This program was made possible thanks to a $400,000 grant and is helping people get online to apply for jobs, do remote work, or study for school.
The nation’s capital has more than 600 hotspots for residents to access free Wi-Fi. All public libraries offer this service and you can utilize it at most city parks and on the National Mall. Having the free Wi-Fi has even helped people digitally communicate during the Presidential Inauguration. To see where the closest one is to wherever you are in D.C., you can use the official D.C. Free Wi-Fi map or access information about these hotspots on the mobile app.
In July, 105 cities throughout the country declared they intend to provide high speed Internet access within the next few years, even if they have to build the infrastructures themselves. You can check if your city is on the list and, if not, petition your local officials to get on board. In the meantime, enter your zip code below to find the best connection available in your area.
[zipfinder] A number of states already tax satellite and cable TV. Last month, the city of Chicago implemented what is, to the best of our knowledge, the first ever tax on Cloud computing services, including streaming audio and video and online gaming.
A New Revenue Stream
On July 1, Chicago implemented a 9 percent tax on all Cloud computing services used by city residents, which the city estimates will generate $12 million per year. It’s not a huge increase for individual users — HBO NOW, for example, jumps from $14.99 per month to $16.34 per month — but the more streaming subscriptions you have, the more you’ll pay.
While it will mostly affect users of services like Netflix and Pandora, it will also affect residents and businesses using Cloud storage or accessing online records databases such as real estate listings: any paid service in which users make a request or perform a search is taxable. Whether the tax could affect paid, streamed versions of cable TV channels made available through companies such as Sling or PlayStation Vue is unclear.
However, there are some clear exceptions. Streaming services supported by advertising won’t have to charge the tax. For example, those who listen to the free, ad-supported version of Hulu or Spotify won’t get charged, but those with paid, commercial-free subscriptions will. That also seems to mean that free services like YouTube won’t have to charge the tax, even if viewers are using ad-blocking software. In addition, the tax won’t extend to digital music and video actually purchased online, as through iTunes or Amazon.
What This Means for Consumers, Businesses, and Chicago
The city has given streaming providers until September 1 to begin paying the tax. The tax doesn’t explicitly require these providers to pass the tax on to their customers, but they will, of course: Netflix has already confirmed it will do so. If subscribers who object to the tax begin to cancel their accounts, streaming providers may choose to sue the city. And they may have a case: according to an article published by the nonprofit think tank the Brookings Institution, since this tax is online-only, it may violate the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act and thus be illegal. Other reputable sources, including the Wall Street Journal, also question the tax’s legality.
What streaming content providers and consumers fear is that the idea will spread. There’s no way to tell yet if it will, but it’s foolish to think other cities and states would be willing to tax satellite and cable but unwilling to tax streaming Internet content. This new revenue could prove especially attractive as a means of offsetting losses in cable and satellite TV tax revenue from cord-cutting households.
A number of outlets have pointed out that although the new tax may generate money from streaming subscribers, it may cost the city even more money. The tax could well prove a burden on young startups, many of which rely on streaming or Cloud services. It may prevent other such services from relocating to the city, and it could even cause some local businesses to move out of the city.
If You Can’t Beat ’Em
Chicago residents about to be taxed for their online streaming should at least get the most possible out of the experience. If your connection seems slow, look for faster plans available in your area. One of them may save you enough to pay for your new tax.
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