Google, in partnership with EarthLink, will provide free WiFi service for the city of San Francisco. This may well be a landmark development in lowering the digital divide and allowing that much more access – rich and poor, majorities and minorities – to the Internet. I think it's great for those lucky San Franciscans who can happily tell their overpriced ISP to shove it, and it's good for the Internet in general (and of course Google knows this: more people online equals more Google searches, etc.).
It's also good for the continued development and maturation of what Richard Florida dubbed The Creative Class. Cities that offer free WiFi service will do much to attract the young, the hip, the creative, the geeky, the artists and entrepreneurs and aspirers who breathe life and business and spending into the urban. Because the cost of founding a start-up is so much lower than ever before, it's no longer necessary to park yourselves near the venture capital stronghold of Silicon Valley. Therefore, San Francisco is very smart to offer free WiFi to all of its inhabitants. Start ups will mimic Forrest Gump and say, "Free WiFi? Great, one less thing!"
San Francisco's offering of free WiFi to its citizens will likely compel other cities who consider themselves cutting-edge and tech savvy to do the same. Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, San Jose, New York, and Washington DC are now certainly on notice to step up. Free access to the Internet by more people will inevitably foster more innovation. The acceleration of Thomas Friedman's flat world within the United States will ignite more competition, which will cause some to fail but will create winners who will provide better services, create better products, write better software, and enable the best forms of collaboration, communication, creation, and interaction in the world.
Now, on a much more self-serving note, it's time for the Powers That Be (I have Season Five of Angel on in the background just now, as luck would have it) in Pasadena to beg and worship and plead with Google/EarthLink to bring some of the free WiFi love to Pasadena. One day I'll write the long and sorrowful tale, but suffice to say that I haven't had a reliable Internet connection in four long months now. Months 1-3 were spent wrangling with Charter Communications over my increasingly intermittent cable broadband connection. I finally dumped them for DSL, only to encounter problems stemming from some other hell dimension. Hopefully yet another visit from the phone company will straighten out whatever needs to be straightened. I'm kicking off 2007 with optimism, at any rate.