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The case for the closed Internet

The other day I came home to find my daughter in front of the computer, talking on the phone with her friend, Natasha, as they were competing in a friendly game of penguin fishing.
That’s so last year, I thought. Having just returned from the WCA conference in San Jose, Calif., I was presented with a vision of the wireless future-a slightly new version from the one I know. In this new future, which will start to dawn in 2008, a plethora of consumer electronics devices will offer easy wide area Internet access. After you shoot some video of your kid’s basketball game, you can press a button and quickly send it off to Grandma Helen’s wireless notebook so she can see her grandson make the winning shot.
It’s easy to imagine this vision materializing. But the newest gaming gadgets already have Wi-Fi access built in. So how will WiMAX be better, other than expanded coverage? I think the answer is contrary to conventional thinking. Wi-MAX’s advantage could be that the network can be closed. Sprint Nextel Corp. said it is struggling with whether some devices should have open access to the Internet or be more like walled gardens.
The walled-garden approach makes sense to me in some instances.

  • It can address security issues. Being able to upload and download data from the Web can make these new consumer devices susceptible to viruses. A top score erased on a PS2 is nothing to cry about. But what about when it is Uncle Dave’s memories of the Space Shuttle disaster or 9/11, or your child’s first steps?
  • Parental controls. Many of the new Wi-Fi-equipped gaming consoles also include integrated Web browsers with parental controls. Sprint Nextel’s WiMAX vision includes family-plan-like bundles of devices that would be wirelessly enabled. But six devices with Web access also present a challenge. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents monitor their children’s time online and that they keep the computer in a public place, like the living room or family room. Today, I feel confident that as long as I buy the appropriately rated games for my kids, I don’t need to hover over them when they are playing games. But once Wi-Fi and WiMAX are added to the mix, they’re free to explore the sometimes dangerous world of the Web.
  • Offering limited access beyond normal parental controls could be a selling point for wireless carriers.

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