There was an article in Friday's NY Times on Suffolk County's moves to set up a wireless network for the whole county with a free or ad-supported basic tier: "Suffolk County Plans to Offer Free Wireless Internet Access"
Without getting into the distinction between free and ad-supported (and there is one, because charging people for an ad free world is like charging people for pollution free air or water) this is a really ambitious plan: 1.5 million people over the 900 square miles of eastern Long Island. That's the same number of people as Philly, but more than six times the area.
The thing that struck me in the article is the suggestion that people might "get a head start on office e-mail while commuting to work on the train." I have no doubt that that is a major application for such a network (and I don't think it's just my NYCentric way of looking at things). But then I thought about how annoyed an email-checking commuter would be when she crossed the border into Nassau county and lost the signal. Like when you're driving on a highway and you hit a state or county line and all of a sudden the road gets all bumpy and broken down.
So why aren't corporations like Earthlink rushing to build out along commuter rail lines?
The mesh wireless networks being deployed in urban areas already allow for continuous connectivity while traveling up to 85 mph, or at least it's supposed to so speeding cop cars and ambulances can use it.
It would be cheap and people would easily pay $20 a month or even $5 a day for that access alone. I would imagine in most instances a free tier for commuters could easily be covered by fees paid for faster speeds. I won't even tell you what a friend said she would pay for internet access for the two hour trip from New York to Philadelphia.
I'm not in favor of bypassing the residents in all of the towns on the line, but it seems like a remarkable business opportunity and that actually buildout to the towns could flow from the train station (just like the olden days).
The bureaucratic wrangling can't be any worse than city councils and I would think the various authorities would be happy to have a network to allow them real-time ticket processing, train-location monitoring, and a robust emergency communications system.
Please let me know if you hear of any such plans.
I know the MTA is planning to put cell phone antennae into all of the NYC subway stations. Maybe they should reconsider making an investment in that technology. At the very least, they should restrict the exclusivity of their 10-year franchise to cellular communications. Can't wait for that mobile voip.