Call me Cringely: 1st Installment

Over at “Dan’s Data” there is a post about “WiFi Pirate Radio”. The gist is that soon WiFi repeaters will be cheap enough that you can just throw them at buildings as you drive by and have them magnetically attach and create an instant “mesh” network. Essentially spreading one Internet connection to a very large area and letting just about anybody who wants to sign on.

This is probably the future of the world– always-on, always available ‘net connections. Science fiction has been taking it for granted for decades.

But this sort of network implies fewer connection points. No longer do you sign up and pay for your own all-you-can-eat connection. Now one person is signing up for that connection and sharing it with 9 of other people. Even if those other people pay a little bit towards the fee, the ISP gets one payment now instead of ten.

So because fewer people will be maintaining a subscription, and more people will be using that single connection ostensibly working out to the same bandwidth and disk transfer usage, this will necessitate a change in ISP payment structures.

It’s not even a matter of legality. Fewer subscriptions, more efficient use of existing subscriptions, both mean stagnant or even receding growth for an ISP. So your friendly internet service providers would seem to have two choices– cap bandwidth, or have you pay what you use. Capping bandwidth in the face of fewer subscriptions limits growth and profit potential, so while it may be a short-term solution to issues like this, I don’t think it will last very long.

In order to grow, ISPs will start charging people for how much data they use, as web-hosting providers have been doing all along. So you can go ahead and share your connection with whoever you want, but if you let them use your data you’ll still be paying for it.

Since ISPs want to guarantee a level of income, they will probably do *exactly* as hosting providers, and give you some data to use with your base fee, and only start charging when you go over that.

I think that some companies may lower that base fee to the ground, like to a dollar, but start charging you for usage right out of the gate. So, if all you do is check your Gmail once a day, you’ll get off with a payment even less than today– provided you just use your own connection.

Hopefully this won’t involve as many fees and taxes and shady charges as electrical, telephone, and gas utilities have crufted onto their customers’ bills over the last 75 years or so.

This “pay for use” model will generate new applications for WiFi routing to track the usage of people connected to the network. At first, the apps will just let you cut people off at a certain point (I bet there are some that do this today). But soon after, there will be a “mini-ISP” app that lets someone sign in to your network and provide payment info so they can pay for what they use.

This will beget a start-up opportunity for a company that is able to handle those WiFi payments securely in a way where users are reassured that Joe Schmo with a router on his house isn’t actually seeing your credit card information.

Of course, we might run out of oil tomorrow and descend into savage chaos.

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