The Toronto Star reports on the (overdue) launch of an interesting city-wide (well, a-few-blocks-wide for now) municipal WiFi network in Toronto. Toronto Hydro (note to non-Canadians: the supply of electricity is frequently referred to informally as ‘hydro’ in Canada, due to the history of hydroelectric power plants…) is responsible for this – and it’s free (for a trial period); eventually it will compete with other Net access providers.

An interesting bit of trivia is that apparently the local police insisted that even for the free trial, there be a method of authentication/login for users (the eventual solution was a SMS to a mobile phone, hardly the most accessible or equality-proofed solution!). Another example, if one was needed, of the general assumption that ‘mass market’ Internet access (as distinct from deliberately concealed use) lacks anonymity, and that the absence of ISP licensing in much of the West doesn’t mean that it’s a case of China controls, but we set free…

On a related note, Lawrence Lessig argued last month that municipal wifi offers a way out of net-neutrality-type restrictions. For entirely unrelated reasons (of course), US ISPs are lobbying to forbid local governments from building such networks. Amazing.

Update: John Naughton draws attention to a New York Times story on a Californian plan for wide area wireless that includes a free service and a premium (faster, with tech support) paid service.