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AT LARGE: The bush telegraph

AT LARGE: The bush telegraph

Story 1: A group of security experts recently drove about in Sydney late one night with a laptop equipped with wireless networking antennae. As they drove, they monitored the signal strength their laptop was receiving. When it got to an acceptable level, they would park and proceed to gain access to whichever corporate networks happened to be sufficiently close and wireless.

In most cases, they didn't even know whose network they were hacking until they got in.

Story 2: A fashionable restaurant in Melbourne operates a cyber-cafe with a wireless network. Management encourages patrons to bring along their laptops for high-speed surfing, network gaming, chat, etc. It's the 21st century equivalent of a prohibition-era speakeasy - except inasmuch as they sell alcohol legally and wear more interesting clothes.

A friend of mine lives a few doors down from the restaurant. She owns an Apple iBook and has a dialup Internet account. However, she almost never uses said account, because she gets better performance from the restaurant's network. Of course, she rarely goes to the restaurant either, because her home is well within the range of the wireless network. It's a sweet deal, and I'm not about to name the restaurant and muck it up.

Story 3: I drove up to almost but not quite Queensland over the Easter holiday weekend. Obviously, I would not be able to access the Internet at the cable rates to which I've become accustomed at home, but I've retained my dialup account for just such purposes.

Problem: my dialup ISP has no point of presence in the area I was visiting. The nearest was Lismore, the next nearest was the Gold Coast - neither a local call away. Then, when I was back on the road, I felt truly cut off. Once you've got used to having always-on Internet, it's hard to do without. Even when you're doing something otherwise engaging like driving for ten hours.

The extent of the horror was truly revealed in Bulahdelah, north of Newcastle, when my mobile phone could not get a signal. Right there on the Pacific Highway, one of the main arterial roads in this great nation, I was unconnected to the world.

These stories demonstrate that, in some parts of the world, wireless networks are freely, even carelessly and almost dangerously available. But rural NSW is being left out.

The great balladeers - the Lawsons, the Patersons - would be writing rhyming couplets to lament this neglect of the bush by the big-city powers. Not me. No rhymes. But it's a bummer.

Matthew JC. Powell can't think of a rhyme for "Wi-Fi". Suggestions to mjcp@optushome.com.au.


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