The welcome mat is not quite out.

Monday, July 10th, 2006

Okay, maybe I spoke too soon. Here we are in the heart of the midwest, the center of hospitality, warmth, and apple pie…uh, right? We found an unprotected wireless and took advantage of the link to the wonders of the internet. A gentleman came by politely greeted us, we openly discussed whart we were doing and we thanked him for making the wireless available. “We should make them some muffins,” Sammy said.

Next time I was there a scowling woman came out to the road walked past our truck and started scribbling furiously. Ah, writing down the foreigners license plate number. “Is there something I can help you with?” “I’m reporting you for prosecution. What you’re doing is a federal crime.”
Um, I see. I told her that where I came from an unlocked wireless signal was more of a neighborly thing to do, where we shared our bandwidth happily and hoped that others would do the same, and besides, we checked with another gentleman who came out yesterday and he voiced no objection.

And then that same once-amiable guy came by and he too was scowling. Turns out that the brother-in-law—who wasn’t around—the guy who paid for the setup—went ballistic in absentia and told them that we were using his bandwidth for no good.

Bottom line, of course, I said “sorry, goodbye” and rolled down the road to friendlier portals.

So, is it the neighborly thing to do? I suppose if folks have the attitude of share and share alike, the system works well, and indeed, throughout silicon valley and the pacific northwest, there are abundant unlocked wifi hotspots and a ‘help yourself’ attitude. Everyone benefits, and the incremental casual use of bandwidth (in my opinion) is a blip on anyone’s monthly usage (someone checking their email is not the same as someone running a webserver and pushing video out on borrowed bandwidth, I agree.)

There have been recent stories (no links, sorry, we’re offline) of nasty don’t-use-my-bandwidth fights in Boston and elsewhere in the northeast…and maybe it is one of those distinctable ethics questions where a casual use is one thing, but if you’re using your neighbor’s packets 24/7 it’s quite something else.

But I always like to err on the side of (and reward) neighborliness. So no muffins for them!