The BBC has announced a deal with Wi-Fi hotspot vendor The Cloud to offer free public access to the BBC website and media player at thousands of London locations. The Cloud operates at 7,500 McDonald's, coffee shops and airports around the UK. The companies said in their release today that they expect to offer mobile access soon, as well. See also our coverage yesterday of the new BBC iPlayer.
It's a fascinating deal that I feel very ambivalent about. I can't help but wonder - is this the future of the web? Sponsored access to a walled garden of content seems legitimate, perhaps even a good idea, but it also raises questions of the commercialization of public discourse and Net Neutrality. (Update: Resident smart guy Steve O'Hear points me to PaidContent coverage indicating that the BBC is in fact not paying The Cloud in the deal, The Cloud is seeing this as a promotion to drive paid customers. Fair enough.)
I suppose if you want to access the whole world of interlinked content online, with diverse points of view and interactive communication - then you can just pay for it. Nothing new there, but there's something about a sponsored and very limited web that I feel wary about. How long until US web users can go online for free, as long as it's Fox News they're watching?
Do our UK readers have any thoughts on this from the particular perspective of the BBC as a more-or-less public utility?