Denver airport offers downloadable movies over local network: FreeFi, which is handling the advertising-supported free service in the airport, which jumped from 600 connections a day when it was for-fee to 4,000 to 5,000 at no cost. FreeFi has a deal with Walt Disney Studios to offer digital movie rentals over the local network. I have been writing for years about the power of the edge network, where instead of providing an Internet feed, media resides locally and can be moved at many times the potential Internet rate. This is the first substantial deployment in any form that I'm aware of.
You can move gigabits for free over a local network, and even at 802.11g speeds, a movie could download in perhaps 7 to 12 minutes (1 to 2 GB), especially in a well-designed network with a strong Ethernet backbone; FreeFi said a two-hour film should take 8 minutes to download on an uncongested network with a modern laptop. Move to 802.11n, and we're talking Stars Wars: Episode IV in perhaps 2 minutes. (I've been expecting Apple to offer this sort of service for a while: download locally, with a requirement to authorize the film over the Net. Their new rental model requires authorization, so we might see something from them in the future.)
FreeFi told me by phone this afternoon that films will have a 48-hour rental period from download, and cost $5 to $8. The longer-than-24-hour window is a welcome relief especially for those traveling, but there's apparently a premium: most online movie rental services charge $3 to $6, and offer a 24-hour window within 30 days after download. For travelers, this will be fine: You'll download the film out of a need for something to do on the plane or during layovers or delays, or to have something to watch on arrival at a hotel.
The FreeFi representative said the intent was to expand offerings beyond the roughly 60 that are now available. The focus will be on airports, where there are plenty of the right kind of audience passing through. The downloads require Windows Media Player and use Microsoft's digital rights management, FreeFi told me; sorry, new MacBook Air owners.