Wifi As a Public Utility

In hope of increasing the Internet penetration in the country, the TRA is currently studying the possibility of introducing a new policy for regulating the use of wifi hotspots in public places that allow the users to freely access the Internet.

We already have more than a few cafes and restaurants that already offer internet for free, some of them, like Starbucks, have deals with Omantel and use sophisticated systems to track and regulate the free use of the guests of the cafe. The purpose of this new policy would be to figure out ways to encourage this sort of activity where businesses and other institutions can find a method by which they offer free wifi to the public while still able being able to make profit from their primary business activity, in the case of cafes for example the idea would be that wifi would be paid off for through the sale of beverages, other businesses models where no actual product is sold could monetize the free use by injecting advertisements on the pages viewed using free wifi so that the provider of the free wifi can still make money even if no incidental product is being sold.

The most interesting part of the policy in consideration is the possibility of having the government step in and help in funding free wifi hotspots in areas where it might not be commercially viable to have a wifi hotspot. This is interesting because it is the first time the government here has started considering the availability of internet as a public utility.

The government provides a number of utilities to the public free of charge on the belief that these utilities are fundamental to help citizens and business get on with their daily lives better. Roads are provided for free to the public because they are fundamental for the operation of society, it is possible for the government to charge us for driving through over the highway (they already do that in certain places like Dubai) but the government chooses not to because the public good in having this utility for free is greater than the financial gain that could be made by charging for it.

While the internet at home might be affordable to many people, the same cannot be said for mobile wireless internet which allows people to connect when they are outside their houses. If free public wifi was available, a person waiting in line for an assistant to help him at the Ministry of Housing would be able to check his mobile phone bill and pay it on his phone using that free wireless connection, another person visiting a public library would be able to do research from his desk on material referred to in the book he read, another person going on an independent trip to one of the forts could read up information on what he is seeing in that fort right through his phone. Businesses will also benefit greatly from the availability of free internet to the public as they can build mobile web applications and offer location based services to these people to help promote the brand of the business or sell more of its products and services.

There are many cities around the world that do provide free wifi as a public utility, it would great for Muscat to be one of these places where the internet is really ubiquitous. It’s good to hear that the government is considering this as another method to help increase the penetration of the internet, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that they do end up doing it for real.

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