This week the city of Santa Clara, CA turned its digital smart meters — which are replacing standard residential electric meters — into conduits for free, citywide wi-fi. Like typical smart meters, they send electric and water usage reports wirelessly, but a built-in separate channel allows people to “get Internet access while waiting for a train, shopping downtown, getting their car washed, or relaxing in their yard.” The move comes after a new nationwide initiative, Everyone On, was launched to provide digital access and services to more than 100 million Americans who don’t have home Internet.
What’s the Big Idea?
Throughout the US, the spread of smart meters has been slow owing to concerns about privacy issues and cost, among others. Also, free public wi-fi tends to be restricted to certain community areas, such as libraries. According to Open Technology Institute director Sascha Meinrath, Santa Clara’s combining of the two is “a real Faustian bargain” for which close attention to privacy rights must be paid. “If they do [it] right, residents have nothing to do but rejoice…If they don’t, you could see some serious malfeasance down the road.”
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