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October 25th, 2006 Brittany Schaeffer | News Stories
 

Wi-Filter?

Why Portland won't follow other cities' lead and filter its wi-fi network.

     
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Hop on Portland's ever-expanding free wireless network and you can check out email, the news—or kiddie porn.

You can't do the latter in some cities that offer freebie wi-fi.

After learning two years ago that the most-visited websites on its network contained porn and peer-to-peer pirated music, Culver City, Calif., installed filters that prevent surfers from checking out content that's illegal or considered offensive. And Corpus Christi, Texas, restricts access to websites that contain porn and other "inappropriate" material.

Some in Portland would like the city to do the same with its fledgling wi-fi network.

"Just because somebody has access to the Internet does not mean that they should have full access to everything," says Toni Manning, director of Friends for Safer Libraries, which is fighting Multnomah County Library's policy of allowing unfiltered public Web access. "Some people are so focused on having their own right to choose something that they trample on the rights of people not to have something."

But despite Manning's concerns, she has failed to convince city officials that children like her 10-year-old daughter shouldn't be given complete Web access on a publicly supported network.

"Filtering is something that's inconsistent with our views about access to the Internet in Oregon," says City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who's supported bringing free wireless here.

Portland is in the early phases of blanketing the city with wireless Internet access. Operated by MetroFi, a Southern California Internet company, city wi-fi nodes are already atop street lamps near Pioneer Courthouse Square, and downtown is scheduled to be completely covered by year's end.

Private wi-fi operators, who currently run the majority of free hot spots in Portland, aren't eager to block Web content either. The largest provider, Personal Telco Project, a local nonprofit also trying to cover the city in wireless, says it wouldn't consider imposing restrictions on its network.

A third of Telco's 100-plus nodes, however, require users to agree that they won't visit sites containing explicit or illegal content. That's an easy blockade for porn-seekers or music pirates to bypass, but Telco says savvy surfers could figure out how to sidestep a filter anyway.

"A filter is only going to stop people that aren't particularly motivated," says Personal Telco spokesman Michael Weinberg. "There are a lot of ways to sneak around them."

 
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