Two organizations in Austin, Texas, are bringing the music of local independent bands to users of free local wireless networks - legally, thanks to the music sharing features built into iTunes. Austin Wireless and Less Networks, which help businesses offer free Wi-Fi hotspots by providing technical advice and free hotspot gateway software, have created a music library containing 36 hours of music available at any free location.
The groups worked with the legendary music and technology festival South by Southwest (SXSW), which annually brings music industry figures, performers, and creative technologists together to look at the state of and future of performance. Through the end of March, the music will be available at the 25 Austin-area businesses that are participants in Austin Wireless's network.
To use iTunes music sharing, you need to have at least version 4.0 of iTunes installed on a Mac or Windows system, and make sure that your firewall is set to allow it. If you're using the built-in firewall feature of Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar or Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, open System Preferences, select the Internet preference pane, click the Firewall tab, and make sure iTunes Music Sharing is enabled. Or, if you're using another firewall, add a rule that allows traffic over port 3689. (This may not be necessary to mount a remotely shared iTunes music library, but only to share your own.)
The Less Networks software component of this system allows hotspots to register users who then have free access. The software acts as a gateway where users at a location confirm that they agree to a set of usage guidelines; the software also tracks usage in aggregate to better gauge whether Wi-Fi is driving business to the company at the hotspot location.
This music sharing is meant to tweak Starbucks, which has offered limited in-store exclusive music via the T-Mobile HotSpot network operated in nearly 3,000 coffee shops in the U.S. Where the Austin project offers free Internet access over Wi-Fi, T-Mobile charges $6 per hour (minimum one hour), $10 per day, or $20 to $40 per month for unlimited access with cancellation penalties.
(Here's a tip to Comcast subscribers: a T-Mobile promotion with Comcast allows any Comcast subscriber to purchase a single T-Mobile $10 day pass and then receive one day pass free each month through December.)