Arnold Kling

Free Connectivity

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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What is exciting about communications technology is not convergence with television but the potential for widespread, low-cost availability. In fact, Simson Garfinkel claims that

One of the most surprising things we learned from launching our Internet startup was that providing wireless Internet service is really cheap. What ended up bankrupting the company were all the ancillary services we had to develop--credit card billing, technical support, the corporate Web site and the various security measures we had to put in place to prevent unauthorized use of the network by nonsubscribers. Organizations that arenít trying to make money providing wireless Internet service can do away with all of these measures and offer the service for free.

This may be happening to communication in general. The actual cost of providing connectivity is falling to the point where the cost of excluding unauthorized users and billing authorized users is the largest expense. At some point, perhaps connectivity wants to be free.

Discussion Question. Assuming that the technology is as available as Garfinkel claims it to be, what sorts of organizational, financial, and regulatory hurdles are there to achieving a vision of freely-available connectivity?

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