Wi-Fi coming to trains, planes and automobiles

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- As the idea of city-wide Wi-Fi dies a horrible death -- it was always a bad idea -- the idea of Wi-Fi inside airplanes, trains, buses and taxis is taking off... big time. Here's why everything with wheels is getting Wi-Fi.

Municipal Wi-Fi was always a bad idea because it offered a taxpayer-funded free service that competed directly with companies offering Wi-Fi either for a monthly charge or as an incentive for loyal business. It was also costly and inefficient to assure service over an area the size of a city.

Transportation, on the other hand, is ideal for Wi-Fi.

An article in today's International Herald Tribune that reports on the fast-spreading installation of Wi-Fi on trains throughout Europe and tells why. The reasons, according to the article, are twofold:

1) It's a "key tool" trains use to compete with airlines.

2) It helps them attract the "business market" because "they pay more for tickets."

Trains in Europe are using it to compete with airlines, and airlines are using it to compete with each other. In the United States, airlines like American Airlines, Southwest and Jet Blue are using it to compete with other airlines and each other. Commuter trains in Boston, San Francisco and elsewhere are using Wi-Fi to attract travelers. Even taxicab companies are starting to offer Wi-Fi for the same reasons.

Wi-Fi helps competing transportation systems not only attract more customers, but customers with expense accounts who are more profitable to serve.

People will quickly grow accustomed to Wi-Fi everywhere, and will drive access into more airports (free Wi-Fi, too), restaurants, and everywhere else business people hang out and have some time to kill.

We started 2008 with zero Wi-Fi on U.S. airlines and limited access on trains and taxis. We're on track to see all these forms of transportation offer hotspots by the end of the year.

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