So I've gone and bought a house. I'm stepping into the market a little later in life than many of my peers, granted, but it was time... and so I signed on a huge number of dotted lines, and thus committed a significant chunk of my future fortunes to some faceless corporation in exchange for letting them own a house where I'm permitted to live. Ah, the American dream!

Even though I've yet to move in, I'm already thinking about (what else?) networking the house. I have two choices: run wires, or go wireless. Until recently, traditional wiring would have been the obvious choice, but now that wireless is pushing into the 10Mb/sec range, it actually makes sense to consider it seriously. Since I'm a Mac guy (anyone snickering at this point may feel free to bite me) I've been looking into the Airport system. It's easy to use, cross-platform friendly, and broadcasts up to 150 feet.

This is great. The signals will cover my whole yard, so I can pick up a laptop and network from anywhere on my property. As you might have guessed from that statement alone, I'm moving into a suburb, with houses all around me. In fact, within that 150-foot network radius are the houses on either side of me, portions of the houses beyond them, and at least part of the yard belonging to the house behind mine. So what's to keep them from joining my network? After all, the signals will be slicing through the houses (and their occupants) no matter what anyone does. And I'm thinking about getting a cable modem once they're available in my area. So my neighbors could, for the cost of some wireless networking cards, hook up to my network and get the same high-speed access I do.

You're probably thinking that's why security measures are built into the wireless protocol, so that I don't have to share, and why didn't I read the wireless specs before shooting off my mouth about security? Ah, but you misunderstand me: Why shouldn't I share? After all, the broadband access speeds are way beyond the wireless network speed. My neighbors and I can all get the same high speeds, and I could work out a deal with them to defray the cost of my broadband access by effectively reselling my access to them at a reduced rate. So my neighbors and I could effectively split the cost of broadband access, thus making everyone happy-- except the people selling broadband access. Instead of three sales, they get one sale. Not exactly a smart sales strategy.

Or is it? Consider that Internet use generally expands to fill the available bandwidth. Sure, for the first year or two, we'll all be fairly happy with our access speeds, but eventually we'll all start to feel the crawl. As we start swapping video mail with our relatives, or even video calls, the network will start to congest. We might try scheduling access times, but that only takes you so far. At this point, a very familiar mechanism will kick in: the desire for more bandwidth, and the sheer terror of having to accept less. Hardly anybody ever downgrades their connection speed by choice. So maybe the guy on the east side of the house decides to get his own broadband connection. Then the people to my west and I share the network for a while, until they decide that they need their own connection. And there's your three sales.

My point here is that this is a scenario which broadband companies should not only accept, but in fact encourage. Offer broadband wireless packages, maybe by partnering with wireless networking companies. You don't have to come right out and admit what you're doing, but make the implication clear. Be very up-front about the broadcast range of the wireless hubs. People will do the math, and set up mini-networks. And within a few years, they'll all have their own broadband. You can't ask for a better marketing technique than giving people a taste of what you offer. They'll come back for more. And unlike drug sales, which operate along similar lines, this is totally legal!

For that matter, consider helping people set up cooperative networks. Think about it for a moment: you have three houses in a row, all with broadband and all with wireless networks. If one of the broadband lines goes out for some reason, the occupants of that house can temporarily shift to a neighboring network until the problem is resolved. This dramatically lessens the screaming your tech support department gets, because the affected house still has Internet access, and allows your repair teams to fix it right instead of fixing it fast.

All told, it's the closest to viral marketing the broadband services community will ever get, and it has the potential to make both customers and employees happier. What's not to like? Sure, broadband access firms might not get the same level of up-front sales, but I think they'll see much stronger sales over the long haul. And building up a reputation for being consumer-friendly sure doesn't hurt.

So my advice is: don't fight wireless. Embrace it, even promote it. Think about ways to help people network their homes together, and push for wireless products which are easier to use, and which broadcast ever further. Think of it as word-of-packet buzz-- because the more people your access touches, the more money you stand to make.