Ubiquitous wifi is only a social good for those with laptops. The coming of the railroads was the make or break point for small towns across America. If the train came through, you were home free. If it didn’t, well…. I drive all over the little towns of Vermont. I see cemetaries on the sides of mountains where, at one point, there were clearly enough people living there to sustain a community and probably a church. When we were all walking, we all had equal access to roads. Then some towns got the railroads, and with it the services, tourists, trade and attention that came with it. They thrived. Some towns faded away to a small cemetary at the end of a dirt road. Municipal wireless can help this problem, but only if we pay attention to who it’s serving, and who it isn’t.
As was the case with ownership of and access to railroads in the industrial era, control over and access to broadband connectivity is defining global, regional and individual success. In turn, it is shaping whether African Americans, Latinos and the poor will continue to live in economically strip-mined neighborhoods like Philadelphia’s Kensington.