Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image


Lawsuit filed against Comcast over residential WiFi hotspots

This ought to be interesting.

Two San Francisco-area residents are suing Comcast for plugging their home’s wireless router into what they call a power-wasting, Internet-clogging, privacy threatening network of public WiFi hot spots.

The class-action lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court on behalf of Toyer Grear and her daughter Joycelyn Harris, claims Comcast is “exploiting them for profit” by using their home’s router as part of a nationwide network of public hot spots.

Comcast turned on the Xfinity WiFi hot spots for its Houston residential customers in June, and at the time a spokesman said 150,000 hot spots would eventually be enabled in the Houston area.


Although Comcast has said subscribers have the right to disable the secondary signal, the lawsuit claims the company turns the service on without permission and placed “the costs of its national WiFi network onto its customers.”

“Comcast’s contract with its customers is so vague that it is unclear as to whether Comcast even addresses this practice at all, much less adequately enough to be said to have obtained its customers’ authorization of this practice,” the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit quotes a test conducted by Philadelphia networking technology company Speedify that concluded the secondary Internet channel will eventually push “tens of millions of dollars per month of the electricity bills needed to run their nationwide public WiFi network onto consumers.”

Tests showed that under heavy use, the secondary channel adds 30 percent to 40 percent more costs to a customer’s electricity bill, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also said “the data and information on a Comcast customer’s network is at greater risk” because the hot spot network “allows strangers to connect to the Internet through the same wireless router used by Comcast customers.”

The Chron’s Dwight Silverman was all over this when Comcast enabled this in Houston. Like Dwight, who blogged about the lawsuit here, I find the claim about a 30 to 40 percent increase in one’s electric bill to be dubious. That Xfinity router would have to be one hell of a power drain for that to be remotely true. The concern about a possible security breach is valid, though honestly anyone with an old home router, or one that uses default admin information, is at a greater risk. At least those Xfinity modem/routers have a complex password on them. As for the rest of it, we’ll see. I used the Xfinity router for awhile, mostly because when I plugged it in I didn’t realize it would make my existing router useless. (*) After a couple of weeks, I followed Dwight’s advice, bought an Arris Motorola Surfboard SB6141 modem, and had no trouble installing it or getting Comcast to activate it, and I’m back where I was before. Whatever does happen here won’t affect me, but I’ll be interested to see how it plays out, and to see if someone takes similar action here. What do you think?

(*) Once I installed the Comcast Xfinity modem/router, I had to switch nearly all my previously connected devices to it, as they wouldn’t connect to the Internet otherwise. The one exception was my TiVo, whose wireless network card continued to use the IP address it had gotten from my existing router with no problems. My theory was that its IP address was outside the range the Comcast router had allocated. It also continued to work with no intervention after I switched back. Who knows why for sure, but as that was the clunkiest interface to make updates to, I wasn’t complaining.

Free WiFi finally comes to Houston’s airports


Travelers to Houston’s largest airports will now have access to free WiFi.

The service will be available in all terminals at Hobby Airport and in Terminals A and D at Bush Intercontinental for the tens of millions of travelers through the airports each year, the Houston Airport System announced Monday.

The service will roll out in phases at Intercontinental over the next few months to be completed by year’s end.

Airport officials say the new free network will have faster speeds than the previous fee-based system.

“This new system improves speed and reliability, and it also introduces our customers to one of the most robust WiFi networks found in any U.S. airport,” Houston aviation Director Mario Diaz said in a statement.


In Texas, Hobby and Bush will be among the last major airports to offer mostly free WiFi access. The main commercial airports in Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso all offer complimentary connections.

George Hobica, founder of, which tracks the WiFi options at domestic and international airports, said airports always compete with each other for service and traffic and WiFi has become expected among travelers. He said almost everyone will use the WiFi with either a tablet, smartphone or laptop during long layovers or between flights.

“People can connect with different airports, they don’t have to go through Houston,” Hobica said. “Some hotels have gyms that nobody uses, but people will use WiFi. Everybody has a device when they travel. … When airports don’t have free WiFi, people say, ‘Really?’ ”

I’ll just say this: Last year, my family and I flew to Denver for a wedding. The best fare we got included a four-hour layover in Amarillo on the return flight. As you might imagine, there wasn’t much to see or do at the Amarillo airport, but they did have free WiFi, so it was bearable. If the Amarillo airport can have free WiFi, there was no reason on God’s green earth why Houston’s airports couldn’t have it. I’m delighted we finally have it, but geez it took ’em long enough. The HAS press release is here, and the Fly2Houston webpage has more.

Comcast wants to use your routers

For a massive WiFi network.

Comcast is expected to flip a switch Tuesday in Houston that will turn 50,000 of its customers’ home Wi-Fi routers into a massive network of public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Comcast residential Internet subscribers with one of the newer cable modem/wireless router combos will show a public network called “xfinitywifi.” Other Comcast customers will be able to connect to it free.

By the end of June, there will be 150,000 such hotspots in the greater Houston area. It’s part of an initiative that will see 8 million Wi-Fi hotspots accessible to Comcast customers around the country by the end of the year.

The move could also lay the foundation for Comcast to get into the wireless phone business with a network that blends Wi-Fi and traditional cellular service.

Amalia O’Sullivan, Comcast’s vice president of Xfinity Internet Product, told the Houston Chronicle that the goal is to make it easier for “friends and family” to use each other’s Comcast home Wi-Fi networks.

“Instead of coming over to your house and saying, ‘Hey, what’s your Wi-Fi password?’ your friends can just connect to the Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot,” O’Sullivan said.

The free network will be on by default for customers who have an Arris Touchstone Telephony Wireless Gateway Modem, which Comcast has been distributing for about two years in Houston. The black plastic device is tall, narrow and has the word Xfinity on the front. It costs $8 a month to rent, and is the standard equipment being issued to Comcast customers who don’t buy their own modems or routers.

Comcast spokesman Michael Bybee said the Xfiniti Wi-Fi hotspot will broadcast only in those cases where customers are using the Wi-Fi feature of the Arris device. Customers who have their own Wi-Fi routers won’t be broadcasting the hotspot.

Bybee said the network will be activated in “waves,” with the first 50,000 switched on Tuesday afternoon. The remaining 100,000 will be phased in through the month.

Customers were notified of the plan in a letter last month, Bybee said. An email notification will be sent after the service begins.

Remember the discussion about municipal WiFi a few years ago? That never happened, but this appears to be a successor to it. There are some details to be worked out, so we’ll see how it all goes. Dwight Silverman has been all over this, with technical details including how you can turn this off if you want to. One thing he clarified for me is that if you bought your own router, as I did, you’re not affected by this.

Extremetech considers some of the implications of this.

Will Comcast Xfinity WiFi slow down your connection to the internet?

The more curious bit is Comcast’s assertion that this public hotspot won’t slow down your residential connection — i.e. if you’re paying for 150Mbps of download bandwidth through the Extreme 150 package, you will still get 150Mbps, even if you have five people creepily parked up outside leeching free WiFi. This leads to an interesting question: If Xfinity hotspot users aren’t using your 150Mbps of bandwidth, whose bandwidth are they using?

There are two options here. Comcast might just be lying about public users not impacting your own download speeds. The other option is that Xfinity WiFi Home Hotspot uses its own separate channel to the internet. This is entirely possible — DOCSIS 3.0 can accommodate around 1Gbps, so there’s plenty of free space. But how big is this separate channel? 50Mbps? 100Mbps? And if there’s lots of spare capacity, why is Comcast giving it to free WiFi users rather than the person who’s paying a lot of money for the connection? And isn’t Comcast usually complaining about its network being congested? At least, that’s the excuse it used to squeeze money from Netflix, and to lobby for paid internet fast lanes.

With 50,000 hotspots enabled in Houston today, 150,000 more planned for the end of the month, and then 8 million more across Xfinity hotspots across the US before the end of 2014, we can only assume that Comcast has a lot of extra capacity. Either that, or it’s intentionally trying to clog up the network for its paying customers — perhaps so it can levy further charges from edge providers like Netflix, or so it has some ammo in the continuing battle for net neutrality.

I figure sooner or later there’s going to be some kind of vulnerability that may expose data on the accompanying home networks. I’m just cynical that way. Are you a Comcast user that has been or will be affected by this? What do you think about it?

Nationwide WiFi?

This sounds like a big deal.

The federal government wants to create super Wi-Fi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.

The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to reconsider the idea, analysts say. That has been countered by an equally intense campaign from Google, Microsoft and other tech giants who say a free-for-all Wi-Fi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor.

The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing Wi-Fi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and many rural areas.

The new Wi-Fi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate to another vehicle a mile away or a patient’s heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.

If approved by the FCC, the free networks would still take several years to set up. And, with no one actively managing them, connections could easily become jammed in major cities. But public Wi-Fi could allow many consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet. The frugal-minded could even use the service in their homes, allowing them to cut off expensive Internet bills.

Of course, a few years ago some of us thought that free WiFi provided by cities would be a big deal, and we all know how that went. As it happens, the original Washington Post story isn’t quite about that.

Unfortunately, as Slate’s Matt Yglesias reported soon after, there is no plan for a free government super Wi-Fi network. What sounded like a plan to create free public Wi-Fi networks is in fact a less ambitious but still vital proposal to reallocate a larger share of the best public airwaves (spectrum) for free shared use without the need for a license. That’s exactly how Wi-Fi operates today—on “unlicensed” bands of spectrum that are equally open to everyone.

There is certainly a strong case to be made that 21st-century public infrastructure should include a minimum level of broadband connectivity almost everywhere. By leveraging existing public assets—both unlicensed spectrum and the spider web of federal, state, and local fiber optic backhaul that crisscrosses the nation—it would be relatively inexpensive to blanket most areas with a basic level of wireless connectivity.

In reality, though, the FCC is not proposing to subsidize the construction of networks. Instead, the agency wants to make enough free and high-quality unlicensed spectrum available that a far wider range of private companies, local governments, and individuals will find it economical to either offer or consume more broadband Internet services.

Oh, well. Still, having lived through the municipal WiFI boom and bust, I was hoping this might be a second chance to get that right. It still could be, but not in the way I envisioned when I read that first story. Kevin Drum has more.

Free WiFi finally coming to Houston airports

And there was much rejoicing.

Free WiFi is set to land at Houston’s two main airports by year’s end.

As wireless fidelity service becomes a consumer expectation, the Houston Airport System told the Houston Chronicle it is working to develop a complimentary – as well as fast, reliable and easy to use – network for the 50 million or so travelers who pour through Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports each year.

WiFi has never been totally free at the city’s commercial airfields, which first started offering pay-only access in 2005 via Sprint.

Currently, fliers get 45 minutes of free access through Boingo Wireless after sitting through a 30-second advertisement. The city has contracted with the Los Angeles-based wireless giant since 2009, when the airport system says demand for free WiFi was not as high.

But fliers say Boingo isn’t always easy to connect to, and it costs $7.95 a day – less under monthly plans – after the complimentary period ends.

Lisa Kent, the airport system’s chief information officer, said airports have “historically” considered WiFi more luxury than necessity, but “that is changing over time.”

Free WiFi, she said, has become one of the most frequent requests from passengers who submit feedback forms.

People “all carry, or most of them carry, smartphones and tablets and laptops, and they expect to be able to access totally free bandwidth from public entities, particularly airports, where they do a lot of staging and waiting for their flights,” said Kent, who oversees the technology department.

The tech team is still working out such details as who should build and maintain the network and what exactly it should look like.

“Ideally, we would like to have a new infrastructure at least beginning to be installed by the holiday season,” Kent said.

You only have to spend some time in an airport that has free WiFi to realize just what you’re missing at Hobby or IAH. I won’t be surprised if the airports develop a tiered offering, with free service that may be slow and/or include ads, and pay service that will be faster and ad-free. Whatever the case, it’ll be better than what we have now, which is basically nothing unless you have the privilege of being in one of the airline executive waiting areas. All I can say is it’s about time.

Fort Bend ISD goes BYOD

Students in the Fort Bend Independent School District may now bring their own mobile device to class to connect to the school’s WiFi and be part of the curriculum.

Fort Bend ISD’s policy allows students to use electronic devices to access the WiFi network in the classroom.

Before this year, the district forbade cellphone use on campus, and any technology use required permission from administrators. The policy follows a similar Katy ISD program, begun last school year. And Spring ISD has launched a pilot project this year at a high school and two middle schools.

Teachers have incorporated smartphones into math lessons by replacing flash cards with game apps and creating class blogs for language arts classes, where students question each other about their assigned reading. Students can also use smartphones in class to take pictures of concepts on the chalk board or to take part in class polls.

Jarret Reid Whitaker, the executive director of the Center for Digital Learning and Scholarship at Rice University, said the “bring your own device” trend is catching on around the state.

“This is an area that every district will have to face,” Whitaker said. “I think right now the only issue of concern raised is making sure students use it appropriately.”

Critics have pointed to insufficient evidence of a link between more access to technology and student success. Others note the potential for more cheating and the temptation to use the devices for non-academic purposes.

The Aldine Independent School District altered its strict cellphone policy this year to allow devices at school, although they must be turned off at all times. The Houston Independent School District still forbids cellphone use in its classrooms.

FBISD had a pilot iPad program last year, so this is presumably an extension of that; McAllen ISD is also using iPads in a big way. I think this is a good idea, assuming that every teacher still has the right to set their own policies in their classrooms. There’s a debate that the story touches on about the devices being a distraction and an enabler of cheating, and that there’s no evidence as yet that the use of such devices improves test scores. I get that, and again I believe no teacher should be required to use technology they don’t like or don’t believe makes their jobs easier, but I think not taking advantage of mobile devices where possible is like what ignoring would have been like 20 years ago. Smartphones, iPads, and the like are part of kids’ worlds these days, and they’re where all of the innovation is happening in computing. If we’re serious about wanting to graduate students who are ready for the challenges of the job market they’ll be facing, I don’t see how we can ignore such a key component to that market. As for the point about not improving test scores, all I can say is that even if there’s a sufficient body of research to make firm conclusions for technology that’s only been in existence for a couple of years, if this is our excuse for not integrating new technology into the classroom then we really are putting too much emphasis on standardized tests. I think school districts need to figure this out and get on with it, and I think it’s only a matter of time before the Lege makes them do it whether they want to or not. Better to get started on it now, if you ask me.

Homeless Hotspots

You’ve probably heard about this by now.

If you’re looking for WiFi at the South by Southwest tech conference this week, instead of heading to a cafe or bumming off of a neighbor, you might just ask a homeless person.

That’s right. New York-based advertising agency BBH Labs introduced a trial run of its new project, called “Homeless Hotspots,” at the tech startup conference in Austin, which started Friday. While potentially practical, the pilot program isn’t exactly getting rave reviews from everyone.

Wired magazine reports that the homeless individuals hawking the service were recruited from a local shelter and are walking around carrying MiFi devices (techspeak for mobile WiFi hotpots) and wearing t-shirts with this:


Those who wish to connect to the 4G network offer a donation that goes directly to the homeless person. BBH Labs recommends a $2 donation per 15 minutes of use—which can be paid through PayPal—but leaves the ultimate payment up to each Internet user.

Okay, I can see what they’re going for here. Jeff Balke raises some objections.

On one hand, I really admire the effort. This company is finding a way to help struggling people by filling a need for those clearly not struggling. Let’s be honest, if your biggest problem is a poor wi-fi signal for your phone on the streets of Austin, you’re doing better than about 80 percent of the world’s population.

I suppose it gives people an excuse to give money to someone on the street who needs it more than that person giving it does and it provides a service in return. In a way, it turns homeless men and women into street vendors. It doesn’t pay much but it is work.

Still, I just can’t get behind the notion that people on the street should walk up to a homeless guy wearing a “HOMELESS HOTSPOT” billboard and ask for access to his network. If they were paying college kids to stand out on the streets, fine. But, homeless people?

It also underscores the tremendous divide in our country and not the digital one. We’re talking about people with every opportunity and every advantage paying a poor person a couple bucks to use technology a company has strapped to his back the homeless man could never come close to affording. For a couple bucks, some guy gets to keep from bumping up against his cell phone’s bandwidth limit while the guy he paid for the service is living in a shelter. Weird.

Then there’s the term: homeless hotspot. First off, the hotspot isn’t homeless, the person carrying the technology is. It’s the equivalent of calling a disabled person selling cookies “crippled cookies.” That alliteration isn’t clever. It’s stupid. Also, he’s not a hotspot, he’s a person carrying a hotspot. That ridiculous name doesn’t do anything but dehumanize this person who likely gets that kind of treatment virtually every day.

That’s all very compelling, but here’s Matt Yglesias with a different perspective.

Now the general idea of PR stunts is to generate positive publicity, which this massively failed to do. However, the negative reaction to this sort of thing always drives the more literal-minded of us slightly crazy. Think about all the companies involved in one way or another in SXSW who did absolutely nothing at all for Austin’s homeless population. How much condemnation did they get? None. BBH’s stunt here offends our sense of human dignity, but the real offense is that people were languishing in such poor conditions that they would find this to be an attractive job offer. The sin they’re being punished for is less any harm they’ve done to homeless people than the way they broke decorum by shoving the reality of human misery amid material plenty into the faces of convention-goers. The polite thing to do is to let suffering take place offstage and unremarked-upon.

Speaking as someone with a Catholic sense of guilt, all I can say is “ouch”. Jason Cohen at Texas Monthly provides the best overview, and some support for the Yglesias position:

Now that the program’s over, the Austin homeless services organization Front Steps, which connected BBH with its clients, has pronounced it a success.

“We are all so grateful we had this opportunity,” says Front Steps director of development and communications Mitchell Gibbs. “Overall our community is hearing a whole lot more about homelessness then maybe (it) would have otherwise, and we’re having the conversation on a national scale that we didn’t anticipate being fortunate enough to have a few days ago.”


[As] KXAN, NBC’s affiliate in Austin, reported, homeless people are also out during SXSW selling Blue Bell Ice Cream, a program run by Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Each treat is $1, and the vendors keep all proceeds (Blue Bell also donated the ice cream). It’s just a lot easier to be cynical about Internet marketing than ice cream.

Of course, the “Street Treats” vendors don’t have to wear a t-shirt that says “I am an ice cream sandwich.” As Erin Kissane tweeted, “the difference between ‘I’m running a hotspot’ and ‘I am a hotspot’ is a difference that matters.”

But the truth is that without the brazen—and potent, given that at SXSW, the whole world lives online, and the homeless want to get back in the world—metaphor, it’s not as good a marketing campaign.

What do you think? Buzzfeed and BOR have more.

UPDATE: Jon Stewart weighs in.

Charge your cellphone wirelessly


San Antonio-based Pree Corp. is developing multiple technologies, including one that would pluck wireless transmissions from the air and convert the energy to power mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and MP3 players.

Rudy De La Garza, the company’s CEO, said they are trying to raise about $437,000 from accredited investors. When Pree goes public later this year, he said he expects to raise about $2 million.

Pree, which stands for Providing Reliable Energy Everywhere, started as an idea for a business and engineering design class at UTSA. That’s when business students Matthew Jackson, 23, and Amanda De Kay, 30, met with Matthew Ellison, 23, the engineering student who had the idea for the wireless technology. The team entered the idea in an annual competition at the UTSA Center for Innovation Technology and Entrepreneurship and won second place.

With help from the university, the group has utilized lab space to work on their devices and had help with a patent application, which was filed last September. The company was launched after they partnered with De La Garza, who runs the Idea Finishing School, an organization that helps early-stage companies find investors and take their ideas to market.

Neat. Just imagine what we could achieve if we lived in a state that valued academic research.

A short post about airport WiFi

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport now has free WiFi service. Maybe after the Terminal B construction is finally done, IAH can have it, too.

Is there an app for doing a golf clap?

This just about blew my mind.

Staying connected at the Shell Houston Open will be easier than ever this year, and golf fans won’t have to sneak their cellphones past the entrance gates to do so.

Starting with this year’s Honda Classic a couple of weeks ago, golf fans have been allowed to take their cellphones to the course during tournament play. It comes, of course, with several stipulations, chief among them, turning off the ringer, making calls in designated areas only and not taking pictures during the actual tournament.

Steve Timms, SHO tournament director and the chairman of the tournament action committee, presented the proposal for the new policy to the PGA Tour more than a year ago. The PGA Tour tested it at five events over the past six months and found that there was little, if any, interruptions of play.

The reason for the change in policy is twofold, said Timms, who also is president and CEO of the Houston Golf Association. First, the PGA Tour merely is acknowledging that cellphones and smartphones are an integral part of people’s lives. And secondly, the PGA Tour can use smartphones to its advantage, offering spectators downloadable applications that will allow them to follow the scoring and receive announcements regarding the tournament.

Timms said surveys among golf fans showed that having to check the cellphone at the gate was a deterrent to attending. Many people aren’t willing to be out of touch with the world for four or five hours.

“I know I don’t like to be without mine, and I know with the younger demographic, a lot of them don’t wear watches because that’s the way they tell time,” Timms said. “They want to be constantly in touch. It’s just part of our society.”

I don’t think I qualify as the “younger demographic” any more – maybe at a golf tournament I would – but yeah. I very seldom go anywhere without my cellphone and my BlackBerry, and if I had been told at the entrance for a sporting event that I’d need to check them with security for the duration (as had been the case with the PGA Tour), I’d ask for a refund and go home. I realize that golf is a little different than team sports – you’re up close to the action and are expected to keep quiet – but it still amazes me that professional golf is just cluing into this. I mean, you can get WiFi at Minute Maid, and the demand for wireless coverage at Reliant is bedeviling its engineers. How is it that golf managed to hold out for this long?

Smartphones in the schools

This makes a lot of sense to me.

While most [San Antonio] area school districts maintain policies that ban students from using cell phones on campus, a few districts are breaking the mold and beginning to admit smart phones into the classroom as an educational tool on a par with a classroom computer.

Though some may think the change will invite distraction, inappropriate texting or cyber bullying into study sessions, others see the move as a way to teach technological skills while addressing those negative issues head-on.

Alamo Heights Independent School District recently changed its policy to allow students to bring personal electronic devices — laptops, iPads and smart phones — to use for educational purposes at the discretion of the teacher. It’s backing that policy change with content-filtered, districtwide Wi-Fi access for such devices.

Alamo Heights is one of only a few San Antonio locations where such a policy is in place. North East Independent School District also will implement a more flexible cell phone policy this fall.

“We’re in an era where the state is piloting online testing. We’re looking at online textbooks. We’re teaching digital citizenship,” said Alicia Thomas, NEISD’s associate superintendent for instructional and technology services. “So we’re looking at our instruction to be sure it’s really aligned with what students are going to need now and in the future.”

Alamo Heights is a wealthy district – as the story says, about 90% of its students have s computer and Internet access at home – so their pioneering spirit in this regard isn’t a surprise to me, but I’m still glad to see them try to get their arms around this rather than try to maintain a strict ban. I hope they will provide a model for others to follow. If you go back and listen to my interview with Rep. Scott Hochberg, he’s clearly thinking along these lines as well, with the goal of having the state provide tools like e-book readers to students as part of their classroom experience. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

WiFi on buses

This sounds interesting.

Beginning today, VIA Metropolitan Transit bus riders who power up their portable electronic devices — such as laptop computers or Wi-Fi-enabled cell phones — might notice an Internet signal coming from within the bus. VIA has started a monthlong pilot program offering free wireless Internet on some express routes to determine whether riders would use the service. If it’s popular, the agency could begin equipping more buses with wireless access.

“What we’re trying to figure out with the pilot program is how much interest there is out there,” VIA President Keith Parker said. “We think there may be a considerable amount. And if there is, we plan to roll it out on a much larger level.”

Next year, VIA will be adding hybrid-electric, full-electric and compressed natural gas buses to its fleet, Parker said, and Wi-Fi technology could be added to them.

“Before we make the investment (in the Wi-Fi technology), we want to make sure customers would use it,” he said.

Hey, more WiFi is always better than less WiFi, so I say bring in on, VIA, and may Metro look with favor upon this as well. I have no idea how popular this will be, as I kind of doubt too many people will break out their laptops while on the bus – among other things, bus rides are usually bumpy; I wouldn’t want to risk having my laptop slide off my lap – but at $50 a month per bus for the service, it doesn’t need to be used much to be worthwhile. I hope that VIA and other local transit entities will give some thought to empowering smartphone users in other ways, as being able to predict when a bus will arrive and knowing where it will go would be a large enticement for potential riders. There’s a lot of ways that the ubiquity of smartphones can make the transit experience better, and many of them are very low cost. A forward-thinking transit authority should take advantage of them in every way it can.

WiFi in the sky

Since I’ve asserted that being able to use one’s laptop to surf the web while traveling is an advantage of taking the train as opposed to driving, I should note that soon one will be able to surf while flying as well.

Southwest Airlines is joining Virgin America, American, Delta, United and others in offering Wi-Fi on its flights. The airline just finished its first round of testing on four different aircraft and has decided to roll out Wi-Fi across its entire fleet.


While everything from YouTube (YouTube) to email was allowed during the test of Southwest’s Wi-Fi, you’re probably not going to be able to use VoIP, Skype (Skype), or video chatting. This is a restriction most airlines place on their Wi-Fi service in order to limit possibly disruptive chatter and noise for its other customers.

There’s no word on prices or exactly when every flight will have Wi-Fi, but the target is the first quarter in 2010.

Train WiFi may wind up being cheaper, and they would be able to provide power outlets. That’s less of an issue for a short hop like Houston to Dallas, of course, but overall I daresay the experience of using a laptop on a train will be better than on a plane. Regardless, my original comparison was to car travel, which still stands. Nonetheless, WiFi while you fly will be an option as well.

Harris County Jury Assembly Room now has WiFi

Jury service in Harris County just got a little more pleasant. The following is a press release from District Clerk Loren Jackson:

Today’s universal tech boom has given way to ‘digital dependence.’ Harris County citizens are no different when it comes to relying on digital connection. In a move bridging a major digital divide and potentially improving attendance to jury service, Harris County District Clerk (HCDC) Loren Jackson announced public wireless Internet in the Harris County Jury Assembly Room. Starting today, citizens summoned to jury service can bring laptops, personal digital assistants (PDA) or other wireless-ready devices to access filtered, wireless Internet while waiting on the jury selection process.

“Jury Service is crucial to the judicial system of Harris County,” Jackson said. “We are doing our part to make it more convenient for our citizens to show up when they’re summoned. Providing them with free WIFI enables them to stay connected to their family and their work. Jury service should be thought of as ‘a great form of service,’ not just an obligation or duty. Jury service is a way to serve your community and your peers.”

In Harris County, approximately 3000 people report for jury service each week, many of whom count on online access to stay productive and connected. While content filtering will be utilized, prospective jurors will be able to access most media and general content Web sites, as well as use general search engines, instant messaging and e-mail. Prospective jurors should ensure their digital devices are fully charged prior to reporting for jury service, as there are a limited number of power outlets available for use within the Jury Assembly Room.

The office of the Harris County District Clerk made providing wireless Internet access to prospective jurors one of its top priorities and worked closely with AT&T for several months to secure the installation servicing most of the first floor surrounding the Jury Assembly Room.

The installation of wireless Internet in the Jury Assembly Room is just part of a greater initiative launched by the District Clerk’s Office utilizing technology to provide improved, efficient services and greater convenience to the public.

Very cool. I’d first heard about this from Jackson a few weeks back, and I’m glad to see that it’s now in production. The District Clerk website, which says that a new version of itself is in the works, doesn’t have any further info on this, but I’m sure you can get any questions you might have answered by contacting them directly.