Tag: "Wi-Fi"

Posted May 10, 2012 by lgonzalez

We have brought you news about DC-Net before and have even highlighted the community network in our report, Breaking the Broadband Monopoly. Now we want to draw your attention to some videos they have produced.

Free WiFi hotspots all over town, secure indoor WiFi for government staff, and hundreds of miles of fiber throughout town are just a few of the advances DC-Net has made toward ubiquitous and reliable connectivity. DC-Net is a tremendous example of a publicly owned network providing the highest levels of performance for its subscribers.

DC-Net has released a video highlighting their advancements in DC and how their work has positively impacted the community.

The second video is from Don Johnson, Director of DC-Net, presenting some info on DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) to a Ward 5 audience. DC-CAN is an initiative to bring broadband to the underserved areas in DC with middle-mile connections. From the DC-CAN website:

The DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) will bring affordable, value-added broadband services to over 250 health, educational, public safety, and other community anchor institutions primarily in broadband underserved areas of the District. It also creates a high speed middle mile network for last mile service providers to deliver affordable broadband access to residents and businesses in underserved areas.

DC-CAN already has 67 miles of fiber laid as a backbone and four city MegaPOP sites are now connected to the 100G backbone. From Ciena, one of DC-Net's private sector partners:

With this new infrastructure in place, DC-Net has already connected 49 new Community Anchor Institutions to the network and upgraded 52 existing anchor sites. Community anchors include charter schools, health clinics and other health care providers, community-based training programs, after school and early childhood development programs, libraries, and public safety sites.

DC-Net anticipates having 291 of these Community Anchor Institutions connected to the...

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Posted May 10, 2012 by lgonzalez

Christopher Mitchell recently spoke with Marcie Sillman on Seattle public radio KUOW's Weekday. Christopher and Marcie talked on May 8, 2012 about recent developments in local and national broadband, including the April 29th end to Seattle's free Wi-Fi network. Christopher and Marcie also discussed challenges and strategies involved in building a community network.

The interview is just about 13 minutes.

Posted May 8, 2012 by lgonzalez

In 2005, Seattle started offering free Wi-Fi to several neighborhoods, hoping to increase usage among businesses, residents, and passers-by. While the effort was hailed by some, and criticized by others, it was an experiment in community broadband. An experiment that ended on April 29th.

The City still considered the free Wi-Fi a pilot project, even though it had been in operation since 2005. Areas served were the University District and Columbia City neighborhoods, and four downtown parks. There will still be free Wi-Fi in public libraries and in a few hotspots around town as well as in some city facilities, including City Hall and the Seattle Center.

The theory was that municipal WiFi was a workable and cheaper way to get more people online. But Wi-Fi is only cheaper in the short run -- something fiber critics tend to ignore. As Seattle has found, most of the network has to be replaced every 5-7 years.

Technical issues and geography also create unique problems for citywide Wi-Fi. Where to put transmitters, interference from buildings, foilage and water, are all barriers to offering a service that is worthwhile to potential users. David Keyes, Chief Information Technology Officer for the City of Seattle noted these problems where there have been complaints of spotty and unreliable reception. Keyes talked to Brian Heaton of Government Technology:

Seattle would be open to someone taking over the system, but Keyes felt that anyone coming in to do a fresh deployment of Wi-Fi might install it a little differently in regard to wireless access point placement. The actual equipment would also need to be replaced.

Seattle's plan for municipal WiFi has been debated from the beginning. In 2008, Government Technology reporter, Chandler Harris, spoke with Bill Schrier, who was Seattle's Chief Technology Officer at the time. Schrier was also one of the harshest critics of the plan to spread Wi-Fi all over Seattle, saying:

"We found significant problems with the technology," Schrier said. "First of all, if you put up a Wi-Fi point, it will work outdoors, but radio waves don't go through walls. If you put the Wi-...

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Posted April 27, 2012 by lgonzalez

North Carolina infamously became the 19th state to enact barriers to community broadband, but we wrote about a loophole to it last year - communities can provide services for free without interference from the state capital. And starting last year, Newton, with 12,968 residents, began offering free Wi-Fi among 48 blocks and has plans to expand.

The city leaders were looking for ways to revitalize downtown. Jason Clay, the City IS Director, wanted to provide free outdoor WiFi as a way to get residents out and into the heart of the city.  He had explored the possibility in the past, but the high cost was always a barrier. Initial estimates were between $50,000 and $150,000 to install free Wifi.

Clay put in time researching  the products that would work for their situation. Rather than pay a consultant to do radio frequency and engineering studies, he did the work himself. By shopping directly with Meraki and Ubiquiti, Clay found significant savings. He even enlisted the help of the city's electrical crew and Information Services staff to install the needed devices. Where did they put the equipment? On city poles and water towers. Free WiFi in Newton is truly an initiative fueled by ingenuity, determiniation, and some elbow grease. From Joe DePriest's Charlotte Observer article written when the network went live:

"I knew the equipment was out there and that we had to find out which one fit our needs," Clay said. "So I kept digging and researching, trying to take the mystery out of it. When you take the mystery out of anything, it's usually just a lot of smoke and mirrors anyway. I kept at it. And we came up [with] some pretty cool stuff."

In a September city press release:

“Currently the City has surplus Internet bandwidth so it just makes sense to share it with the citizens,” he [Clay] said. “We do have bandwidth limitations set so the...

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Posted March 24, 2012 by christopher

The Open Technology Initiative's Dispatches from the Digital Frontier blog originally published this story by Preston Rhea about his experience working with some neighbors to build their own wireless network in Mount Pleasant in Washington, DC. We hope it inspires others.

If you are not yet familiar with Mount Pleasant, here’s a chance to learn about one of DC’s most vibrant neighborhoods. It’s a diverse area not far from downtown DC, featuring a main street lined with locally-owned businesses. Many of these shops and restaurants are owned and run by the area’s large Latino community, which has long been central to shaping the neighborhood’s character. However, over the past decade rising housing prices have pushed many in the Latino community east towards Georgia Avenue.

In May, I moved to Mount Pleasant and started to learn about the area. In order to encourage community-building and local empowerment and to increase local information-sharing and opportunities for civic engagement, I decided to use skills and ideas garnered from my work at the Open Technology Initiative to organize a community wireless network. Despite my excitement to get started, I didn’t want to rush in without first connecting with the people, the histories, networks, skill sets, and local knowledge already present in the community.

My first step was technical: with the help of my OTI colleagues, I specified the hardware for the network and prepared the technology for installation. The first-stage plan was to install a few “nodes” (wireless access points) in order to establish the form and structure of the mesh network - open, interoperable, unfiltered, and decentralized. Then, at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, I handed out fliers directing people to an online survey gauging their interest in organizing a community wireless network in the neighborhood. I also posted a few of the fliers in local businesses on Mount Pleasant Street. But I needed to go deeper in order to really connect with the existing social networks of people and projects.

Several of my neighbors suggested...

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Posted March 22, 2012 by becca

In an attempt to regain some of its Silicon Valley shine, San Jose, California is taking another run at municipal Wi-Fi. The city hopes that by covering a 1.5 square mile block of downtown with fast, robust wireless Internet access, it will become more attractive to the technology entrepreneurs who have, in recent years, been more likely to set up shop in other parts of the valley.

San Jose has twice attempted to offer free public Wi-Fi through privately owned and operated networks. In 2004, Global Netoptex deployed hotspots that never really worked. In 2006, MetroFi tried offering advertising-supported wireless, but was unable to generate enough revenue to cover costs. Just two years later, after failed attempts to sell its networks to the cities in which they operated (including Santa Clara, Cupertino, and Portland, Oregon) MetroFi went out of business.

This time, the City is investing its own funds in a network that will both serve the City’s own communications needs and offer free public access. San Jose is paying approximately $100,000 in start-up costs, and is committing to $22,000 in annual operating expenses. The City’s CIO, Vijay Sammeta, says the City is getting “a sweetheart deal” in exchange for its willingness to be a testing ground for software and firmware updates. Applications will include wireless parking meters and digital pay-to-park signs. The City expects cost savings from moving from other wireless connections to the Wi-Fi network will balance out the annual operating expense.

SmartWAVE will operate the network, which uses Ruckus technology. SmartWAVE operates successful Wi-Fi networks in Austin, Texas and Pima County, Arizona, among others. Ruckus Wireless is used in what is said to be the world’s fastest Wi-Fi network, in Seoul, South Korea. Its technology is said to focus radio frequency directly at users in order to overcome one of the biggest problems with...

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Posted January 15, 2012 by christopher

Silicon Valley Power, the muni electric utilty owned by Santa Clara is preparing to launch a citywide Wi-Fi network later this year according to the Santa Clara Weekly. The city took over the failed MetroFi attempt at citywide wireless broadband and has apparently expanded it.

That system never reached the entire city and was limited to outdoor use. Santa Clara FreeWiFi will work citywide, indoors as well as outdoors. A new, high-density design will provide up to 40 access points per square mile - compared with less than 30 access points for the MetroFi system.

I share Esme Vos' reaction regarding its likely difficulties in actually functioning inside but the Santa Clara Free Wifi website strongly recommends that anyone who is planning to use it inside use a Wi-Fi- booster, which can be found at most tech stores.

Silicon Valley Power, as we previously noted, has an extensive fiber-optic system that is already uses for its power management. That will provide the necessary backhaul to the wireless access points.

This will undoubtedly be a nice amenity for those living or traveling in Santa Clara but it is unlikely to suffice for those who need reliable and high capacity connections to the Internet. It will be interesting to see who is ultimately paying for the Internet access charges as well as how the economics work out. The network will be helpful for remote meter readings -- perhaps the savings there will entirely pay for the public's usage of the network.

Ponca City has been taking this approach for some time now and it seems to work for them.

Posted December 9, 2011 by christopher

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet some of the folks from the Personal Telco Project in Portland, Oregon. They have been around for a long time and do excellent work.

This is how they describe themselves:

The Personal Telco Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Portland, Oregon dedicated to the idea that people have a central role in how their networks are operated. We do that by building our own networks that we share with our communities, and by helping to educate others in how they can too. To date, we have done this using Wi-Fi technology. We began in 2000 by turning our own houses and apartments into wireless hotspots (or "nodes"), and then set about building networks in public locations such as parks and coffee shops. There are currently about 100 active nodes participating in our project. We would like to see people and businesses in every corner and on every block of the city participating.

They have been involved in the discussion in Portland over how the City can ensure all residents and businesses have access to affordable, reliable, and fast connections to the Internet.

I was just reminded of them by a video that discusses their work and some of the reasons communities need to build their own networks (below). They also have a YouTube channel with more videos about community broadband.

Posted November 24, 2011 by christopher

A story from Washington, DC, seems appropriate for Thanksgiving. DC's Community of Hope provides healthcare and housing to people in difficult situations. It needs Internet access for its medical work but also for computer labs where people can search for jobs and students can do homework. DC-Net is now providing their access:

“Internet service has been a critical requirement for our programs for some time,” said Victoria Roberts, Community of Hope’s Deputy Director. “Through DC-CAN we are now able to get seven times more bandwidth for the same cost we previously paid, and the fiber network ensures that connection is truly reliable, which has been challenging in the neighborhoods we work in.”

DC-Net is going beyond just providing access to their locations by setting up Wi-Fi access points for the neighborhood to use as well.

DC-Net was created as a muni-owned fiber-optic network connecting schools, muni buildings, and libraries but has gone on to connect some federal agencies. The network has proved incredibly reliable -- far beyond what was provided by the incumbent or other national carriers. And now it is finding ways of delivering services to the people who may need them the most but have the least ability to pay.

Posted October 27, 2011 by christopher

Bristol, Virginia, holds a unique place in the heart of community broadband advocates because it was the first muni broadband network to provide triple-play services over a full fiber-optic network (OptiNet). It is well known among NASCAR aficionados for the Bristol Motor Speedway as well. What I didn't know, prior to my visit to Bristol this week, is that it is also home to a music festival celebrating the community's important contributions to country music.

The second page of the Fall Newsletter from Bristol Virginia Utilities [pdf] discusses how BVU's OptiNet has built a Wi-Fi network downtown to offer free connectivity to festival-goers. But it doesn't end there - they also provided laptops and HDTV to those who wanted to hang out.

From the newsletter:

BVU offers Wi-Fi at Music Festival

At the 2011 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival, BVU set up the “BVU Pavilion,” a temporary technology hotspot. The pavilion offered free WiFi Internet, public laptops, as well as high-definition televisions and seating to festival guests throughout the entire weekend.

In addition to the BVU Pavilion, housed in downtown Bristol VA, BVU also installed equipment to provide WiFi Internet access throughout the twin city’s downtown areas. The access was a huge plus for users of mobile devices such as smart phones. Users could download festival applications like artist schedules, stage maps and more.

“As our second year providing this service, we knew people would be looking for us again. This is simply a gift to our city,” explains Gail Childress of BVU. “We are avid supporters of making our community a great place to live and visit. This complimentary service is just one way that we can say ‘Welcome’ to our visitors and ‘Thank you’ to our full-time residents.”

“BVU has been great to work with,” says Leah Ross, Executive Director for Rhythm & Roots. “This allows our fans to check their email, log onto Facebook or Twitter, blog about the festival or just surf the Internet. It’s really a win-win for everyone.”

Rhythm & Roots guests who prefer to use their own laptops or devices found available space within the...

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