Two cents on community hotspots for folks who might be setting them up

Last week the Blandin Broadband communities met up to talk about how things are going in their separate and combined efforts to promote digital adoption. It was an opporutnity to learn about some fun projects and ideas as well as hear about some shared concerns and obstacles. One obstacle/opportunity that came up was a plan for public hotspots.

Understanding WiFi Options

Part of the problem is understanding the options for WiFi – and funny enough CCG Consulting happened to write a nice article that outlines WiFI options last week – just when we needed it. They wrote about:

  • History of WiFi
  • Profileration of Commercial Hotspots
  • Settop Boxes (plug-and-play wireless networks such as you might get from your cable connection)
  • City-wide WiFI Networks
  • The Internet of Things

Commercial vs Private Hotspots

One of the things that I think doesn’t get discussed often enough is the difference between public and private hotspots. PC World ran an article last March that talks about the technical differences between public and private hotspots from the perspective of a business that might want to open up an existing wireless network to customers. They do a good job of outlining the options, such as

  • Private networks made more public-friendly by including a guest access feature to an existing wireless router
  • Business class routers that offer multiple SSID and virtual LAN (VLAN) features
  • Wireless hardware specifically designed for offering Wi-Fi (includes an option for users to agree to terms of service)
  • Fonera Simpl router for simultaneous private and public Wi-Fi signals
  • Open Mesh that allows for a larger areas

The other aspect of commercial vs private hotspots is the legal issue. I think about this more because while in the US it seems that the coffee shop (or other business) takes the initiative to set up wireless for their customers. Generally they don’t charge for it. It’s just an added service to the customers. In Ireland, it seems that providers take the initiative to set up wireless in coffee shops. So there’s generally a fee – unless you are already a customer of the provider who has set up that wireless network. Some providers (Boingo) offer wireless access in the US. I do see that more providers (such as Comcast) are offering Business WiFi options; I know some private WiFi contracts specifically say not to use the private network for public access. If your contract does allow for sharing, Life Hacker has an article that may help you get up as safely as possible.

Content Filtering

A final topic is content filtering. Do you want to limit the sites that your users can access. I remember this issue coming up in the library. Librarians are pretty hesitant to block access to information BUT they are also pretty hesitant to want to make patrons uncomfortable by letting the few who want to access adult sites expose the rest of the library to their taste. So one answer is to turn the computer screens to the walk, another was to admit that maybe filtering isn’t such a bad thing. Turns out lots of business don’t filter their public access but it’s pretty easy to set up content filtering.

This entry was posted in BCBP, Community Networks, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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