Up ahead: gas, food, Wi-Fi... Why not?

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- The small town of Louisville, Nebraska, offers free Wi-Fi throughout the downtown area. A business coalition wants to put a sign advertising the service on the main highway as a way to attract users -- and business. But the state has been fighting them for a year.

The State of Nebraska Roads Department is concerned that if they let Louisville put up their "free Wi-Fi" sign, the department would be flooded with requests from other towns and private businesses to erect signs advertising various services. So they took the signs down, according to a story in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper.

The signs were made and placed not by the city, but by a local entrepreneur who owns an "Internet development company."

The local business coalition's goal of using Wi-Fi to lure users and, ultimately, customers for local businesses is laudable. But the Road Department's position is also understandable. As it stands, business owners are essentially trying to erect a billboard outside the normal process for commercial highway advertising.

But all of this raises the question: Why not add Wi-Fi to the general services listed on highway signs for travelers?

In California, for example, it's typical for those green California Department of Transportation signs to list "Food," "Gas" and "Lodging" -- or whatever combination exists in a town -- to notify travelers looking for such services. They don't advertise specific businesses or give details, but they do give provide a valuable service to drivers.

Hasn't Wi-Fi become such a universally valuable service and such a basic need that it should be listed on highway signs along with "Food," "Gas" and "Lodging"? I think it has.

Once travelers enter towns, they should be directed to Wi-Fi areas or informed about where to log on with signs installed by the city or by private business by permit issued by the local government.

And I'd like to offer the idea as a possible compromise for Nebraska, and a model for highway departments across the United States.

What do YOU think?

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