They keep telling me so, and I guess it’s true.  In his latest gesture of love towards Tbiliselebi, Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava announced that the entire city will have free public wireless by the end of this year through a network called “Tbilisi Loves You”.  Initially, I was absolutely ecstatic–free public wireless would greatly simplify my life and help my budget.  I still think that the free public wireless is a nice idea, and will make life in Tbilisi much more pleasant for me.  Increasing computer literacy in the general population is one facet of President Saakashvili’s drive towards modernization, and providing free public wireless will expand the number of people who are able to learn to use the internet. First graders in public schools are all provided with netbooks, another of Misha’s crazy ideas, so computers are more available in Georgia than you would think looking at just the country’s level of income and development.  Being able to connect these computers to the internet will certainly improve their effectiveness at developing 21st Century computer skills. Although the free WiFi is in line with the country’s development goals (and makes me personally happy), I can’t help but think that it’s a few steps premature.  Although other projects might not be as glamorous, I would also be happy to see the roads and sidewalks in residential neighborhoods repaired, or more money dedicated to traffic safety.

(from WIkiMedia Commons)

 

Another aspect of this project that concerns me is the potential impact on small businesses.  Many of my favorite cafes are places that I discovered in my quest for internet access two summers ago, and I see that many people at these establishments still have their computers with them.  More and more Tbilisi businesses now provide free wireless with the purchase of goods or services.  Although, I have no data on the correlation between wireless availability and amount of money spent at a business, my personal experience indicates that customers (of a certain demographic, at least) will flock to places providing free wireless, and spend a bit more than they would on just a meal as they linger over their Facebook pages.  I suspect that sales at these establishments may decline slightly when they no longer have a monopoly over being a nice place to pop in and check e-mail.  And these are all concerns before we speak about the network itself.  I don’t see it as a stand-in for having my own internet service provider, but rather as a convenience while out and about.  Nonetheless, for many people Tbilisi Loves You will be their primary access to the internet–a situation that is likely to result in slow speeds, and dubious security.  That being said—once the project gets off the ground (there are already a small number of hotspots up and running), maybe you’ll hear from me more often…