The city of Philadelphia is planning to make high-speed wireless access free to anyone in the city by turning 135 square miles into a gigantic hotspot. This is a great example of enlightened leadership acknowledging the importance of universal access to everything the web has to offer. And the remarkable thing is the price tag -- using new wireless mesh technologies, they believe they can get it done for around $10 million dollars plus one and a half million a year.
This is the first example of massive-scale urban wireless access enablement. It's been done in other places, where CBDs have been enabled. I posted this about a plan to provide wireless to Nantucket island, but that was a mere 800 acres.
If the first mega-project can be done for this little, what will the tenth or the hundredth project cost? The implications for education and economic development in developing countries are staggering. Development agencies and governments currently put several million dollars into providing the equivalent of an internet cafe, using old-fashioned cabled systems hooked up to desktop iron, that benefit a couple of dozen people at a time. For a little more, you can flood a city with high-speed access from devices that are cheaper than desktops. You could wireless enable every school, home, small business, and government agency, giving them access for free.
Of course there would be resistance from the vested interests, and there are other practical considerations such as how people get their hands on mobile devices. But the effect of putting a powerful catalyst for development in the hands of the masses is hard to imagine. And it seems to me that the cost of bridging the digital divide so is no longer an issue.