It's A Brand New World

Written by admin on June 13, 2007 – 3:54 pm -

In mid-June, the city of Paris introduced free WiFi connections. There are 260  Municipal WiFi Connections where you can take your laptop and work away. Imagine being able to surf the Internet while sitting in the Luxembourg Garden, other parks, museums, libraries and so many more locations.  Surfers are no longer delegated to sitting in McDonald’s, the first place in Paris that offered free on-line access.  But, if you’re in a park, be certain your laptop’s battery is fully charged.

There are numerous cities in the US and in Europe that are WiFi-enabled and more than friendly. There are an increasing number of free Hot Spots in the US and many paid and free WiFi Connections throughout the US and the world, including Japan, Asia and the majority of cities in the EU. It’s amazing when you consider that not so many years ago, people depended on faxes and overnight mail delivery, if they were really pressed.

This relatively instant interconnectivity has dramatically changed the way business can be done. People can and do cyber-commute. “File-sharing” is the norm in companies so that numerous people can work on the same project around the clock. One Washington, DC lawyer I know doesn’t even tell his clients when he’s gone to Paris. His cell phone has a DC area code and he answers it night and day. The Philadelphia set a goal to be the first US city with free WiFi.  The city’s mayor felt it would be important for both the private and public sectors, attract tourists, and enable students to compete in a more level playing field when it comes to academic studies. With the development of computers that cost less than $100 each, perhaps it’s feasible. ”Wireless Philadelphia” has completed testing its wireless service in a 15-square-mile test zone and plans to expand access to the city’s 135- square- mile radius by the end of 2007.

But, that’s the US where many people had computers (or were been exposed to them). It’s amazing Paris has taken this extremely aggressive Internet connectivity initiative considering personal computers were a rarity among the French who, not so many years ago, were addicted to the Minitel.

FranceTelecom distributed millions of free “dumb” terminals in lieu of phone books. Anyone with a phone line could access a phone number and other services such as train schedules. As a result, the Minitel was often considered an impediment for a fast deployment of the Internet in France as it already provided safe and easy online access for many useful services without requiring personal computers.

There are (marginal) advantages of the Minitel over the Internet: it doesn’t require subscribing to a service or buying and maintaining a costly personal computer, plus there are fewer security issues with respect to credit card payments and other personal information.

Also, because the Minitel follows well-defined standards, there are hardly any compatibility problems that often crop up with Internet services.

Some contend that thanks to the Minitel, the French are used to doing transactions online and have embraced the Internet since it offers more value and convenience than its predecessor. Plus, the cost of computers and other hardware have dropped and consumers can buy them on-line, at electronics stores, and in nearly every hyper-marche.  FranceTelecom has essentially phased out the Minitel after France’s Internet czar degreed that it was time for the country to start tapping and typing into the 21 st century.

When Bonjour Paris launched thirteen years ago, the main response when discussing the Internet among the French was, “C’est quoi ca?”   Educated people, including graduates of the Grand Ecoles, with whom I discussed the Internet refused to believe it would make any inroads among the French.

Neighbors in Provence couldn’t understand why I spent so many hours sitting in front of a computer screen.  Work was done over a very slow phone line. To add insult to injury, phone bills were akin to the National debt and weren’t anything to be taken lightly.

France has come a long way since then.  High-speed Internet connections are available practically country- wide. The speed of connection in Paris is faster even than what’s normal in the US – to the point that the speed of some IP providers is essentially equal to a T-1 line.

So why should it be shocking that Paris has hopped on the cyber bandwagon?  If Paris’s Mayor Bertrand Delanoe can introduce the Paris Plage (beach), why wouldn’t he go full-steam ahead and make the city WiFi?  The city government will undoubtedly do the same when new technology is introduced.

Tourists can carry a tiny computer or PDA with them and access web sites about France on the go.  Can’t wait to see what will be next!

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