Photo by iandavid on Flickr.
Wi-Fi service, already available on Acela Express trains, is soft launching on Regional trains as well. Reader and Maryland Juice blogger David Moon encountered working Wi-Fi on his Regional trip from New York to DC.
And an Amtrak contractor was checking with riders about the connection quality, which Moon found to be quite “stable.” Have you found Wi-Fi on any Regionals?
There’s one catch: the service, Amtrak Connect, is apparently also employing content filters that censor many completely legitimate subjects, including news sites that focus on gay issues.
Content filters, in general, have come under substantial criticism, especially when implemented by governmental or quasi-governmental entities like public libraries. It’s nearly impossible to accurately filter out objectionable material without also blocking some controversial yet completely appropriate subjects.
Why is content filtering necessary at all on Amtrak? US law does not hold service providers responsible for the information people access via their networks. People are even bringing their own computers.
If Amtrak is worried about other people seeing certain content on computers, those computers could already have offensive content on them. Or, like many public entities that put content filtering on Wi-Fi, maybe there’s just a generic knee-jerk assumption that they “ought to” filter without any real justification.
Some types of filtering, for bandwidth rather than content, can be appropriate. Amtrak has limited bandwidth to its train-mounted devices, which connect to the outside world using the same systems as Internet-enabled mobile phones. If one person tries to use HD video chat or some other very bandwidth-intensive use, it could deprive others of decent service, so Amtrak and its contractor who operates the service, GBS and Nomad Digital, would be acting reasonably to “shape” network traffic to limit higher-bandwidth uses to a portion of the data stream and maintain service for others.
Amtrak deserves kudos for rolling out Wi-Fi, but should instruct its contractor to only filter out material based on its bandwidth usage, not its subject matter.