Part 1 of 3 (or more?)
I recently stumbled upon a great series of essays entitled "How I'd Fix Atlanta" orchestrated by Austin Ray. Since it is unlikely anyone will ask me to write an essay (or even less three!) about this topic, I thought I'd take it upon myself to share my thoughts right here.
"Give me the password to the f💣 wifi."
Final lyric of "Chun-Li" by Nicki Minaj
What is the first thing that you ask for when you get to someone's house during a road trip or on vacation? Okay, it's probably where the restroom is. But soon after that, you will ask what the WiFi password is. Nicki Minaj isn't some prescient rapper about this - we all ask for this at some point. Aside: I won't get into how many incredulous looks I get when I give mine, which is long and complex (and partitioned off from the main network - I can't trust visitors not to have promiscuous data habits or malware-infected devices).
Having high-speed (thanks to gigabit fiber!) WiFi access is a must, even if it's at your home for visiting guests. When I go to someone's house, and the Internet is anything less than 50mbps, I'm doing a hard eye roll and potentially using my phone's 5G connection instead. At least this way, I've got a bit of control and assurance of the performance and speed.
Expanding on this and emphasizing the South's ideal of southern hospitality, we should view metro Atlanta as our home. Visitors to our "home" should be provided easy and free access to high-speed WiFi since that will be one of their initial requests.
Giving our guests access to fast WiFi allows them to help us promote metro Atlanta easily. All of those videos and selfies that visitors invariably take can be uploaded quickly and shared, only increasing FOMO for all of their friends who have not yet made it to the city I love.
But this proposal affects more than just visitors. By layering a high-speed network throughout metro Atlanta, we make the region even more attractive to organizations, companies, and startups seeking to make their home here. We have already been successful in attracting large corporations such as Airbnb, Microsoft, Norfolk Southern, and others who have either moved or are setting up large offices or secondary headquarters in Atlanta. In addition, we have had companies like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS, and Delta in and around Atlanta for a long time.
Enabling ubiquitous high-speed WiFi empowers professionals to work from anywhere without having to fiddle and ask for the WiFi network and password for where they happen to be.
How To Accomplish This
I know what you're going to say. The City of Atlanta doesn't have the budget to support municipal WiFi. Even if it did, this covers some 500,000 out of the 6+ million metro citizens. The fractured nature of our city (and state) precludes solutions that serve citizens, and visitors, where they are (yes, this is foreshadowing for a future part in this series). If we could get all of these municipalities to work together to create this solution, we would probably be mired in legal negotiations for years to come so that everyone could have their say, so we have to think beyond government being the solution for this problem.
Today, unlike 25+ years ago, every major organization, corporation, and non-profit requires high-speed Internet access for their operations and employee productivity. The bandwidth available at these organizations is almost always more than what is required by that organization's employees. The cost of over-provisioning bandwidth is cheap insurance for when many users are transferring large files (or, ahem, watching Netflix).
Thus, we have an already paid-for resource available within local organizations that just needs to be made available in a cohesive manner to make it useful and valuable for everyone. Organizations can split off a public WiFi network like this and create a lower service level for those users such that their employees always have all the available bandwidth they need. If there is any spare bandwidth (and there always is, especially during non-work hours), this is made available to the general public.
To make a metro-wide WiFi network useful, users need to be able to attach their devices to a network once and have it work everywhere. Forcing users to find and connect to differently named networks defeats the ease of use and ubiquity of this type of service. I'd propose something that would reinforce that users are in Atlanta and our hospitality - maybe call the WiFi network WelcomeToAtlanta as a call back to the informal Atlanta anthem by Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris.
But there is one problem with this proposal.
The Missing Technology We Need
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a pretty security-minded individual. This proposal has one glaring issue because of the currently available WiFi technology or, rather, the lack thereof.
Anyone can set up their WiFi network with the name WelcomeToAtlanta. That opens up an opportunity for someone to launch a man-in-the-middle attack, which would not be very hospitable to allow to happen to visitors.
We need a new WiFi technology that bridges the gap between the two current options of a wide-open network with no security and security using a pre-shared key. Neither option solves the issue of a man-in-the-middle attack since an open network is easy to spoof, and a network with a pre-shared key will have that key shared openly so everyone can easily access the network.
Instead, we need a WiFi network that authenticates using a public-private key pair. This way, a public key could be widely shared, and users' devices would only authenticate against networks that possess the proper private key. This private key would need to be tightly controlled and, likely, changed (along with the public key) regularly. Given a secure mechanism to share with participating organizations throughout the metro, we could build up a network that achieves ubiquity over time while also ensuring that users are securely roaming between access points that are a part of the network.
We previously had one WiFi hardware startup in Atlanta, but now, as far as I know, no startups in Atlanta are pursuing this market. If we still had someone in WiFi hardware locally, they would be a great candidate to devise this authentication process (my description above is not fully baked) and submit this to the WiFi Alliance for future inclusion in a WiFi standard. But since there is none, I leave this here for someone to pick up and run with. I'm too busy coming up with ideas for others to do for me to execute this. 😃
A Note About The WiFi Network Name
Listen, I know many places around the metro Atlanta area will not want to run a network called WelcomeToAtlanta. That is why this proposal specifically sidesteps the involvement of government and instead is focused on the engagement of organizations and companies. Recently I've heard people saying, "Well, we don't want to be like [redacted] county" to ideas on how to improve local situations. People that say things like this aren't maintaining local culture or ideals. They're just trying to be different by being difficult. If we're going to push Atlanta (and I always mean the metro when I say "Atlanta") forward, we have to execute our fixes by sidestepping those whose mission is to hold back the region.