Have you seen the Wave?

No, I’m not talking about Google Wave.  I hear it’s pretty amazing.  Yeah, whatever. Applications and tools come and go.  No, I’m talking about the bigger wave. The one that’s going to bury your school’s “Acceptable Use Policy” for internet tools.

See, Finland just made broadband access to internet services a legal right. It turns out that Switzerland did it first back in 2007, so there are now two countries that define internet access as a human right.  Mobile access, landline access, whatever.  It’s a right. Meanwhile, AT&T and other American providers want to charge you extra for what other nations (only two right now admittedly) regard as a necessary part of being a citizen and a human being.


The second thing is that the tech underlying Internet access just underwent a shift.  In this story from Business Week, the WiFi Alliance industry consortium announced that they’ve figured out a combination of hardware and software that turns any WiFi enabled device into an access point.  And it will be on the market in six months.

Pay attention to the last paragraph:

There’s also growing interest from manufacturers of cheaper cell phones, Giordano says. Today, Wi-Fi can be found mostly on high-end smartphone models. “The new use cases are really going to allow the technology to proliferate among devices it’s not been considered for,” Giordano says. “We are expecting that this will drive a lot of growth for us.” Worldwide, shipments of Wi-Fi-enabled cell phones should rise from 64.9 million units last year to 314 million units in 2013, according to consultant IDC. “This technology is going to be ubiquitous in every notebook and netbook in 12 to 18 months; it’s going to be a very fast ramp,” Martz says. “And I think that’s a pretty conservative [estimate].”

Remember when we had to deal with camera-enabled cellphones in school?  My school’s solution was to demand that we be able to put a sticker over the camera lens.  Our initial position was that we be able to paint over it with black nail polish; parents didn’t want us ruining their kids’ cellphones that way, but they accepted the stickers.

Most of the stickers were gone in 24 hours.

Then we banned cellphones from the school building completely.

But now?  A kid has a cellphone in his backpack in my class.  There’s another cellphone across the hall.  And one in the locker upstairs.  And two more in the science lab down the hall.  And two more in the art room.  And three more in the student lounge.  And mine, in my school bag.

It becomes this big fluffy blanket of WiFi, routing everyone’s signals to the edge of the building, and to the cellular tower on the top of the nearest tall hill.  Or the other cellular tower, in the other direction, on the nearest not-so-tall hill.

In two years, none of your students will be using your school’s very expensive WiFi services that are blocked by expensive filters.  They will be using the grid created by their own cellphones. Sure, it’ll be expensive to keep all those phones charged, and paid for, but then…

Your students already know what the Finns and the Swiss know:

Access to the Internet is a legal right.  And your students will break your school’s acceptable use policies to gain their rights. Better get used to it, and start thinking about how to change your policies to account for the Next Big Wave.

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