High -- Free Internet 'hot zones'
are drawing new wave of
multitasking comes courtesy of WiFi,
or wireless fidelity Internet
access, which is available for free
in the heart of Salem and an
increasing numbers of cafes and
libraries north of Boston. The
service allows people to go online
while outside of their home or
office, and gives independent
like Pickering the chance to work in the midst of other people.
''It's a little more inspiring than sitting at home all of the time, and a little more energizing to be out and about," said Pickering, who works out of her Topsfield home office and chose to eat lunch at the Salem cafe because of the WiFi connection.
Portsmouth, N.H., have joined the
growing list of US cities and
towns to embrace the free service by creating publicly subsidized WiFi ''hot
spots" -- two of more than 41,000 worldwide, according to the website wifi411.com. Last month, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced a new
WiFi task force to create a plan to make Boston wireless. With WiFi networks
now in major cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia, proponents say, high-speed access to the Internet should be available to all, saving users hundreds
of dollars a year in fees to providers.
president of Tech Superpowers in
Boston, who helped design free
WiFi corridors in Salem and Boston, believes the phenomenon will continue to spread throughout downtown areas. ''I think as it develops through the next
five years you're going to see much more coverage, especially in urban areas,
and in areas that are interested in attracting businesses," said Oh.
restaurants and hotels still charge
for the service, an increasing
number of cafes, restaurants,
libraries, universities, and public
made free high-speed wireless Internet service a priority.
Two years ago, a
group of Salem merchants created a
WiFi zone across
several city blocks, installing a wireless network that provided Internet access
via radio waves to laptops, and other devices such as cellphones and PDAs,
set up with the proper gear.
executive director of the Salem
development organization, said the WiFi service costs more than $4,000 a year and is subsidized by 12 businesses. ''It brings people who live downtown to the shops and to the wireless area, and hopefully they'll shop and buy things. It's
also a service that I think is very cool and edgy," said Zaido, who wants to expand the service to Pickering Wharf.
In Portsmouth, N.H.,
the city's Chamber of Commerce
launched free WiFi in
Market Square three years ago with a keen eye on collecting and
disseminating user demographics to area businesses. While the service is
available seasonally, from the spring until the fall, usage has dramatically
jumped since 2003. That year, 280 people registered to use the service;
in 2005, 1,412 people registered and logged on more than 25,000 times. Last year's data showed that a majority of users were male, between 23 and 30
years old, held bachelor's degrees, and worked in sales and marketing, said
Ginny Griffith, with the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce. ''We give the information to the downtown business people so they can see some of the trends," Griffith said.
''Having WiFi is a
no-brainer because it adds so much
value to the city," said
Erik Crago, president of Port City Web, a firm that helps subsidize the WiFi
zone. Crago believes that WiFi has made it easier for people to conduct
business. The wireless connection has also made corporate meetings more
mobile, said Crago. During the warmer months of the year, it's not unusual to
see whole departments eating lunch while sitting around open laptops that are connected to the Internet, he said.
In Beverly, the
Chamber of Commerce wants to build a
WiFi network that
would provide free Internet access along two downtown arteries, Cabot and Rantoul streets. ''Eventually, everybody is going to want to be connected,
and I think it's going to help the merchants in ways that we may not even
know yet," said Rich Weissman, the chamber's president, who estimated that
the project would cost $20,000 to launch.
Inside the Atomic
Cafe in downtown Beverly, regular
customers like John Hurley say the
cafe's free WiFi connection keeps
them returning. Hurley, an Essex
commercial photographer, spends at
least two hours each weekday in the
cafe checking and sending e-mail and
researching cameras and photo gear.
''I enjoy the culture of the
coffeehouse. You tend to run into
more creative people in
this atmosphere," said Hurley, who usually orders coffee and a cookie.
A few tables away,
Ethan Berry prepared an e-mail to
send to students. A professor at
Montserrat College of Art in
Beverly, Berry comes to the cafe
twice a week between classes to squeeze in e-mail and research time. ''I can
get more done sometimes here than I can in my office. . . . There's some etiquette around leaving you alone when you're working at a computer here," Berry explained.
written guidelines for wireless
etiquette became a necessity after
John Mahoney, the Atomic Cafe's
owner, began offering free WiFi two
ago. On each table, a small red card reminds WiFi patrons not to hoard table space and to be paying customers.
Mahoney, who pays
$50 a month for the WiFi service,
said he decided to offer free
Internet access to bring new faces
into the cafe. While up to 30 people
use it every day, Mahoney's staff sometimes has to remind people of the red cards that spell out the cafe's WiFi policy. ''We've got to make sure that we're
not losing business because of people camping out for so long," said Mahoney.
sitting alone, focusing on a screen,
that the culture of the coffee shop has been altered. ''I think it's more
impersonal. You're kind of in your own little world, on your laptop, e-mailing
people all over the world instead of interacting with people around you or
reading a local paper," he said.
Brett Rhyne, an
assistant professor of
communications at Salem State
College, uses his college's WiFi
system to check e-mail but believes
the free Internet
link actually creates a heavier workload for people while cutting into their free time. ''People eagerly pull out their laptops during their coffee and lunch breaks and then go on to do more work," said Rhyne. ''Ultimately, technologies like
WiFi encourage ever more telecommuting, which may be marginally more environmentally friendly but on the whole just make it cheaper to run
businesses because it lowers overhead."
libraries that offer free WiFi,
patrons with properly equipped
can spend as long as they want on the Internet.
More than four
years ago, Everett's public library
began offering free WiFi with
the hope that people would bring in their laptops, freeing them to be online
and not have to wait for the library's Internet-connected computers, said the library's director, Deborah Abraham.
more and more every day," said
Abraham, who has noticed
students from Bunker Hill Community College and businessmen using their
laptops with the library's WiFi.
director of Marblehead's Abbot
Public Library, sees free WiFi as
another way of serving the public.
''People just need to be connected,"
said Strong, who estimated that 20
people use the library's WiFi link
''It's been very successful. People come in and camp in a corner and get a lot
of work done that way."
At public schools,
some teachers are even using WiFi in
the classroom for
fact-checking. With WiFi at Swampscott High School, social studies teacher
Paul Maguire leaves his laptop on during class in case he's asked a question he can't answer. ''I can move around the classroom with it, and sometimes a question will come up in class, and you can do a search and get a pretty
quick answer," he said.
While WiFi offers the immediacy of the Internet in any setting, one Internet security analyst cautioned users to guard against identity theft or computer hackers while using the service.
Some WiFi zones
may have built-in security to
prevent hackers, but Harold
Belbin of Visiting Geeks in Merrimac advises users to take security into their
own hands. Laptop users, said Belbin, should have a software-based firewall
on their laptop, along with antivirus software, and anti-adware that is
activated in real time and automatically updated.
''Personal identity theft could be
huge in hot spots. You're in a
higher rate of vulnerability in a hot spot because you have this level of anonymity."
Free portals to cyberspace
Gloucester: Lone Gull Coffeehouse, Cape Ann Coffee
Lynn: Gulu-Gulu Cafe
Newburyport: Plum Island Coffee Roasters
Danvers, Everett, Saugus, Swampscott: Panera Bread
Portsmouth, N.H.: Market Square
Salem: Downtown sections of Essex, Washington, and Front streets;
Front Street Coffeehouse