I live in San Francisco, the city where Wi-Fi access is considered a fundamental right. Seriously, that's what our mayor, Gavin Newsom, said recently.

Of course, in a densely packed city full of badly configured routers, free Wi-Fi is already a reality for many San Franciscans. In my building, anybody can just tap into an unsecured router cleverly named WLAN whenever they get the urge. I already have five wireless networks visible from my home PC, so you'll forgive me if I sometimes mistakenly believe that I'm already living in a world of ubiquitous Wi-Fi.

Still, while Wi-Fi access may not make it onto the Universal Declaration of Human rights anytime soon, the idea of this kind of service being as freely and widely available as street lights or paved roads is pretty compelling.

Just as streetlights made the streets safer and paved roads sped up commerce, it's easy to imagine Wi-Fi bringing all kinds of social benefits to San Francisco - from a more computer-literate population to a city filled with next-generation Web services that change the way we shop and socialise.

In fact, that opportunity may explain why