Liberal advocacy groups push for free wireless Internet

The coalition provides information and tips to households, small businesses, developers and Internet service providers for how to implement open Wi-Fi networks.

Some small businesses, such as coffee shops, offer free Wi-Fi access, but the practice is not widespread.

"We envision a world where sharing one's Internet connection is the norm," Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Adi Kamdar said.  "A world of open wireless would encourage privacy, promote innovation, and benefit the public good, giving us network access whenever we need it."

Skeptics worry that shared Wi-Fi networks are a security risk and could allow freeloaders to slow Internet connections. But on its website, the Open Wireless Movement argues that shared Wi-Fi networks are safe as long as users take basic security precautions and that many networks have excess capacity. 

The group said it is working on router technology to make it easier for people to open their networks without risking their security or Internet speeds.

"The frustrating thing about wireless networks today is that they're everywhere — there can be dozens of them bouncing around you at any given instant — but you're locked out of almost all of them," EFF Technology Projects Director Peter Eckersley said. "We realized that the Internet would work much better, and many amazing new kinds of devices would be possible, if just a small fraction of them could be opened. So we started a movement to make that happen."

The group acknowledges that sharing a Wi-Fi network with the public can expose a business or user to legal liability, but argues that the risks are overblown. The group provides more information about legal issues on its website.