Heathrow Has No Wifi Clothes, It’s Gone Boingo

Heathrow, airport of the 2012 Olympics. No affordable internet access.

It’s high time for another post to the Deviants section of the blog, so let’s get started. Like cockroaches under a rock, Deviants frequently come in packs. Find a problem, dig deeper, and you often discover a bundle.

This time we’ve got at least four deviants to offer you. Let’s start with Heathrow International Airport, bane of international travelers (To remember how bad they are, it would be great if we could “heave and throw” them out of the global airport hub system till they up their game)

At Heathrow, wi-fi costs over $25 (US equivalent) for a “day pass”. No hourly rate is available. This Machiavellian strategy screws thousands of short-layover people every day out of any access to the internet.

From http://www.ihateboingo.com Logo and running man should be reversed, to show customers fleeing, I think. Any graphic designers want to update this pic?

The wi-fi is run by Boingo Wireless, one of the largest and horriblest (yup, that’s a word) wireless companies presently inhabiting our precious island Earth. Check out Boingo’s atrocious reviews at CNet. They’ve been regularly accused of several deceptive practices, including repetitive billing when customers sign up for a day pass, and terrible procedures for getting off their repetitive billing. See more lovely complaints by the downtrodden here. Boingo has an apparent, if not a legal monopoly, on wi-fi at Heathrow. I wasn’t able to find anything else when I was recently there. The information desk didn’t know of others either. (Were you waiting for a way to remember Boingo as a deviant? Think of getting boinked economically, in a coercive manner, and you’re pretty close.)

Heathrow is designated as a hub airport in the global travel system. By choosing Boingo, the UK is screwing all international flyers, telling them what they really think of them and their travel dollars. It would be lovely if the ICAO or another governing body for airports could hold them accountable on this. Heathrow’s general level of service is has long been rated poorly (see the large number of low ratings at Skytrax buried among the positive ones, some of which I suspect are pre-Olympics PR shills). Heathrow’s run by BAA (think black sheep to remember them) the plutocratic, bureaucratic airport management conglomerate that until recently had a monopoly on all the main London airports for years. In 2009, the UK government finally forced divestiture of the two other London airports also owned by BAA. Big money here, so things are slow to change.

Free wireless now exists in hundreds of civilized airports globally. See: http://www.wififreespot.com/airport.html for a list. Apparently T-Mobile (only slightly less sucky than Boingo) was in Heathrow before them. And apparently the Starbucks in one of the Terminals at Heathrow had good cheap connectivity way back in 2006. It’s not rocket science.

Anticompetitive industry lobbying groups like the CTIA (formerly called the Cellular Telephone Industries Assn, but you can call them Controlling Today’s Information Access) push for airport monopolies on wifi service provision, as they did in 2006 at Logan Airport in Boston, for example. That sucks.

It’s high time to recognize wi-fi access to the internet is no longer a luxury good, but a community service that should be free in all civilized countries, like bathrooms. Soon it will be a right, like 1Mbps internet is in Finland.

How do we get free wi-fi as the base layer in all our airports over the next few years, including the largest, most plutocratic and bureaucratic ones like Heathrow and LAX? For a start, I recommend complaining to Heathrow on Twitter, @HeathrowAirport, and using the tag #HeathrowAirport. Anyone searching the tag will forever see your thoughts about their crappy wifi, and can add their voice. You can also complain here on their website, but that’s private. I’d trust BAA/Heathrow’s willingness to do anything with your private feedback as far as I’d trust a scorpion not to sting me.

Until your cybertwin can relay your opinion to the web for you on voice command, for all of us to use to guide us to the best things, and to help us rein in the deviants, take a moment and let them know what you think. If you have any other good strategies in mind, let us know in the comments, thanks!

Bob Frank on Darwinian Econ, and a Call for Backbone in Obama’s 2nd Term

Bob Frank, Professor of Management and Economics at Cornell, is brilliant at framing economics in evolutionary terms. Visit his home page for some great articles, videos, NPR interviews, and books, if you want a quick tutorial in common sense economics.

His new book, The Darwin Economy, is an elegant argument for why rising economic inequality hurts any economy, and why evolutionary competition always must be balanced against developmental cooperation. The Spirit Level, The Fair SocietyThe Impact of InequalityThe Great Divergence, and Wealth and Democracy are other highly recommended books in this vein.

To start,  we must recognize that certain levels of income and asset inequality are incentivizing and proinnovative. Think for example of the levels we see in Germany, Scandinavia, and other social democracies with innovative, healthly small business and strong industrial bases.

But if you don’t have a state that understands its critical role in limiting the income and asset divides via appropriate levels of income and estate taxation, they grow until they become counterinnovative. Cartels and collusions and special interest lobbying take over, incentives for inter-class cooperation are destroyed, and real bottom-up competition disappears. The folks at the top gain the economic means to change the rules to benefit just themselves, and the economy becomes a nepotistic kleptocracy, as seen in the kind of capitalism in autocratic states like Russia. Or the way Israeli capitalism is being captured by a few uberwealthy families in almost all the major industries (some areas of infotech a current exception). Marginal U.S. income tax rates over $2 million/year were 90% in Eisenhower’s term, and they are effectively 15-20% today, to our great shame. We’ve got a long way to go to get our house back in order.

Frank makes clear the unclaimed potential of an evidence-based bipartisanship emerging in coming years, and the real value of both liberal and conservative ideologies, policies, and rulesets in a capitalist social democracy. He also discusses the dangers of taking both right (libertarian) and left wing (nanny state) views too far, of giving either camp too much rope to hang themselves with.

Here’s a nice USA Today op-ed between liberal Frank and the conservative P.J. O’Rourke on how Liberals and Conservatives can get bipartisan agreement on infrastructure spending in a depression, and should avoid proposing visionary projects, which are anathema to each other. This has some merit to it, and I’d be excited about it if they were talking not about roads, which are of real but ever-declining relative value in a world of accelerating tech, but about digital infrastructure, as that is the greatest bottleneck holding back all kinds of new technical productivity in this country, as Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks (free PDF version) and other books eloquently describe.

The harsh reality is that big business, particularly big media and telcos, have always been able to derail fast-track digital infrastructure building, as it will of necessity disrupt their business models. Read my whitepaper, How the Television Will be Revolutionized, if you want some of the grim details on how big business has thwarted the arrival of real broadband for American citizens, and will continue to do so until we have political leadership with vision and backbone.

What we need is a President who recognizes that government must place the needs of society above the needs of big business, for key decisions. Obama felt he was that president, but he fatally decided that health care, rather than digital infrastructure, would be his first key play for reform. In a major recession no less. But health care reform won’t create the jobs we need, only a special combination of digital infrastructure reform, immigration reform, small business support reform, regulatory and tax reform, educational reform, and a few other key reforms will. Just as Keynesians know the state needs to save in a boom and spend in a recession, they should know you don’t do health care reform in a recession, but in a boom, or on the way out of one. By going up against the wrong big businesses for the time, and focusing first on health care over “jobs, jobs, jobs,” he crippled his political capital, and screwed up any chance of a productive jobs-oriented bipartisan alliance emerging on the hill for years to come.

The only reason it’s 60% likely he’ll get another term, as the useful prediction market Intrade will tell you, is because the other choice is no better, so we’ll stay with the incumbent. (Dear reader, I hope you are paying as little attention the U.S. presidential election circus as I am these days, as there’s far better things you can do with your precious time). Obama advisors, please read my post on The Race to Inner Space. What matters in tech policy if you want to accelerate national productivity in your second term is driving innovation in nanotech and infotech first, and every other technology (including health care, which already takes up a staggering 18+% of our GDP) second. Until we have a president who realizes this, our tech policy will continue to be unenlightened.

Fortunately, the smarter the web gets, and the smarter our circa-2020 AI assistants (cybertwins) become, the closer we’ll get to seeing the emergence of an evidence-based bipartisanship, and a plethora of evidence-based policies that advance our technical and human productivity. We may have to wait a decade to see meaningful political change, but oh what a decade of scientific and technical advance this one will be. I can’t wait.

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