Personal Telco is a Portland-based non-profit that provides free wifi Internet access at numerous locations throughout the city.
Personal Telco was originally conceived in the early 2000s as a wireless network for the city, which could operate independent of other networks (such as the Internet) in addition to providing access to them. Portlanders participating in the network would connect directly to one another via wireless network connections, which would enable local file sharing, local web sites, etc. Internet access was one of many features that the network would provide.
As demand for Internet access grew, Personal Telco's focus shifted to providing Internet access. They have installed some large and high profile wifi nodes, notably one in North Portland that was funded by a $15,000 grant from Meyer Memorial Trust. In addition, they encourage individuals to share their home Internet connections with the name "personaltelco.net"; using this name consistently has established a recognizable brand name for Portlanders looking for free Internet access. In some cases, Personal Telco will supply wireless equipment to people willing to volunteer their connections for this purpose.
During Personal Telco's time, similar projects have been attempted in Portland.
The City of Portland attempted a large-scale city wireless network, with corporate partner MetroFi; this project was a failure. More recently, Clear has started offering paid WiMax access in Portland.
In addition, many Personal Telco nodes in public spaces are complemented with free computers from Free Geek.
For an interesting comparison, the city of Glasgow, Kentucky has offered inexpensive Internet connectivity as a public utility since the 1990s.