Tag: "Wi-Fi"

Posted October 13, 2011 by ejames

Riverside, California, an innovative city of 300,000 in the eastern part of Los Angeles has been a broadband pioneer even though it sits in the shadow of tech centers like nearby Santa Barbara.   Riverside’s accomplishment as a city catching up with the information age was evident when it was selected as one of the top 7 Intelligent Communities Award in 2011 by New York-based Intelligent Community Forum.  

“It’s an honor to be selected as one of the top 7 cities in the world.  It comes down to a couple factors, what communities are doing with broadband, but... includes digital inclusion, innovation, knowledge workforce (of folks within your community) and marketing advocacy... We rank very high in all those categories.” - City CIO Steve Reneker [Gigabit Nation Radio]

The cornerstone the city’s SmartRiverside initiative is a free public wireless network which covers 78% of the city’s 86 square miles.  Established in 2007 by AT&T (which also offers DSL services in Riverside), the maximum speed of the network is 768kbps, which at just under 1Mbps is decent enough to surf the web and check emails.  However the road to providing free Internet access and bridging the digital divide wasn’t so easy for Riverside.  

The City issued a RFP in 2006 for a provider to deploy a citywide Wi-Fi network, with the goal of making the Internet accessible to users who can’t afford higher cost plans.  The City met with respondents and a speed of 512kbps or about half a megabit was initially quoted as an entry-level speed that would complement existing services rather than compete against them.  The contract was awarded to AT&T who hired MetroFi to build the network and charge the city a service cost of about $500,000 a year.  MetroFi went bankrupt after completing only 25 square miles and Nokia Siemens took over but only completed up to the present level of coverage. 

In 2007, the wifi network launched and began bridging the digital divide. Through the City’s digital inclusion efforts, not only were modest-income families able to obtain low cost or free PCs but also have means to use them with an Internet connection.  

After AT&T acquired a competitor and created AT&T Wireless Systems (AWS), it informed the...

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Posted September 13, 2011 by ejames

The Southern Maryland Independent reports the Charles County Technology Council brought together local innovators in technology and environmental sustainability on September 10.   The event featured the county's public service innovations in the field as well as showcasing electric vehicles and solar energy technologies.  In addition, the newspaper noted the Charles County Public Library's (CCPL) downtown wireless network, in partnership with the town of La Plata, has been expanded with 15 wireless access points and exceeds 1,000 users per month.  The Library has also upgraded its public workstations to lower wattage computers, reducing both energy usage and heat output.

For over a year, the La Plata downtown wireless zone is available free to the general public.  The wifi project began in 2008 when the CCPL applied for an Innovation Grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Though La Plata budgeted a matching $50,000, the grant was turned down but the partnership between the Town and Library continued.  In 2010, the Library agreed to assume administrative and technical maintenance while the Town used its budgeted funds to deploy equipment.  CCPL provides T1 backbone to wireless routers purchased from San Francisco-based Meraki.   Private owners agree to lend rooftop space for nodes at no cost.   In September 2010, the system went online and later expanded to include much of Downtown back to the Town Hall.  Last June, the system hit a milestone 1,000 unique users--La Plata's population is about 8,700.   The Town now looks to continue expanding the availability but also to move into utilities and municipal services.  [More information found in their powerpoint.]

The La Plata model was looked at this summer by nearby town of Berlin, also exploring public wi-fi. Via Ocean City Today:

The town of La Plata in Charles County successfully coordinated a free...

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Posted August 26, 2011 by christopher

Silicon Valley Power, a muni electric in Santa Clara, was smart when fibering-up its electrical plant. They overbuilt their needs and are using the additional capacity to benefit the community. One of the biggest beneficiaries are the schools and taxpayers that support them.

That brought to mind my recent conversation with Larry Owens, manager of customer services at Silicon Valley Power. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based municipal electric utility built fiber between its subsystems to increase the organization’s reliability. But Silicon Valley Power overbuilt that network, which enables it to lease dark fiber to the school district and service providers via its SVP Fiber entity. The electric company also purchased MetroFi, a free Wi-Fi services company that fell on hard times, to connect new smart energy meters to its offices. Those Wi-Fi assets also are being leveraged to deliver free outdoor Wi-Fi access to anyone within Santa Clara.

I remember reading about this network earlier this year in a Public Power Daily release:

The technology and added bandwidth capacity allow teachers to hold virtual field trips and will eventually allow students who are unable to attend school the opportunity to join their classrooms via a home computer, Silicon Valley Power said. Download speeds have made classrooms more efficient, the utility said.

"Before the fiber network, the download process was very slow and sometimes wouldn't work at all when my class tried to use streaming video to add to our lessons," said Jennifer Rodriguez, who teaches a fourth- and fifth- grade combo class at Katherine Hughes Elementary School. "Now I can utilize instructional videos off the web and stream them quickly, making the lesson more interesting and the learning more fun for my students."

Posted August 25, 2011 by christopher

Santa Monica's approach to building community owned broadband that puts the community first has been wildly successful. They have not focused on providing residential connections, and likely will not in the future, focusing instead on meeting their municipal needs and businesses to spur economic development.

They can deliver up to 10Gbps to businesses that need it and they have connectivity throughout the City for whatever projects they choose to pursue. This includes free Wi-Fi in parks, controlling traffic signaling (prioritizing mass transit, for instance), and smart parking applications. On top of all that, their investments have saved more than a million dollars that would have been wasted on slower, less reliable connections provided by leased lines.

In the matter of controlling traffic signals, Santa Monica wants all intersections with fiber-optics.

Arizona Avenue, the Mid-City area and the city's office district will all be getting makeovers if the City Council approves two contracts that will connect 40 signalized intersections to City Hall's centralized traffic control system.

The work represents the fourth phase in a five-phase effort to connect all of Santa Monica's intersections using fiber optic cables. Some signals will need to be fully replaced, while others can get by on smaller upgrades, according to the staff report.

Don't miss this hour long interview between Craig Settles and Jory Wolf, the brains behind Santa Monica's success.

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Posted August 15, 2011 by christopher

Chattanooga, with the nation's most impressive broadband network (stretching into rural areas even outside the metro), is spending $30 million to put a Wi-Fi wireless network on top of it. At present, it is primarily for municipal uses:

For now, city government plans to retain exclusive use of the network for municipal agencies as it tests it with applications including Navy SEAL-esque head-mounted cameras that feed live video to police headquarters, traffic lights that can be automatically adjusted at rush hour, and even water contamination sensors that call home if there’s a problem beneath the surface of the Tennessee River.

Much of the wireless network is being funded by state and federal grants -- Chattanooga is turning itself into a test bed for the future city, at least for communities that recognize the benefits of owning their own infrastructure. Chattanooga can do what it wants to, it does not have to ask permission from Comcast or AT&T.

The goal for the city’s wireless network is to make the entire city more efficient and sustainable, said David Crockett, director of Chattanooga’s Office of Sustainability.

As Bernie Arnason notes at Telecompetitor, Wi-Fi is increasingly needed by smartphones because the big cellular networks cannot handle the load. The future has wireless components, but without Wi-Fi backhauled by fiber-optics, the future will be extremely slow and unreliable -- traffic jams for smartphones.

A more recent story from the Times Free Press notes that Chattanooga is wrestling with how to handle opening the network to residential and business use.

Wireless symbol

“I want to be innovative,” he said. “I want to do more than just turn it on in the parks.”

It’s a popular idea with technologists, tourism officials and the general public, who would gain the ability to surf around the city at speeds greater than typical cellular speeds.

Bob Doak, president and CEO of...

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Posted August 13, 2011 by christopher

One of the benefits of community ownership is the public should be more open to trying innovative strategies to maximize benefits from the network than a private corporation is because the corporation only cares to maximize profit. And the larger the corporation, the higher the tendency to avoid innovation to minimize any potential risk.

When the folks at KeyWifi developed an entrepreneurial approach to sharing Wi-Fi connections, they began approaching community networks as a natural partner. For those community fiber networks that don't want to build a wireless network on top of it, this could be a middle ground to get some of the benefits from such a network - particularly for small businesses that do not use their connections in the evening, as outlined toward the end of the TED talk below:

Posted August 3, 2011 by christopher

During the recent budget negotiations, one plan called for taking valuable wireless spectrum that is intended to be used as a commons and auctioning it off the massive corporations to monopolize. Rather than enabling a whole new generation of wireless technologies that would create countless jobs and ongoing opportunities for innovation (some have described it as Wi-Fi on steroids), it would have created a one-time cash infusion while further consolidating the incomparable market power of AT&T and Verizon. Preserving as much spectrum as possible as unlicensed commons allows communities, small businesses, and activists to build the wireless networks they need because they cannot afford to license spectrum for their sole use.

Wally Bowen wrote the following op-ed urging a more sensible approach. Fortunately, the spectrum auction was dropped from the plan - but it will undoubtedly come up again. This was originally published in the Charlotte Observer on July 31 and is reprinted here with permission.

U.S. House Republicans are pushing a proposal to sell off some of the nation's most valuable real estate as part of a debt-ceiling deal, apparently unaware of the harm it will do our economy.

This real estate is a portion of the public airwaves so valuable that it's been called the "Malibu beachfront" of the electromagnetic spectrum. This lower-frequency spectrum, previously reserved for broadcast radio and TV, is far superior to "Wi-Fi" frequencies used for Internet access - and for innovative devices ranging from microwave ovens and cordless phones to garage-door openers and baby monitors.

This prime spectrum can deliver broadband speeds that support high-definition video for telemedicine in rural and other underserved areas. This spectrum is especially plentiful in rural America, and could help connect millions of low-income citizens to affordable broadband services. It could also spark a new wave of high-tech innovation and job-creation far greater than the Wi-Fi boom of the last 25 years.

Wi-Fi Logo

The genius behind the first wave of Wi-Fi innovation was unlicensed spectrum. Though these higher frequencies were once considered "junk bands" by radio engineers...

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Posted July 25, 2011 by christopher

This article from Craig Aaron is a good introduction to some of the key concepts in community broadband, including understanding the difference between wireless and wired approaches.

One tech writer dismissed municipal wireless as “the monorail of the decade.”

But all the obituaries are premature. A closer look at what’s happening at projects across the country—public and private, wired and wireless, big and small—suggests that it’s far too early to start the funeral arrangements. Much of the media are confusing the collapse of one company—or one model of broadband deployment—with the failure of the entire idea of municipalities providing high-speed Internet services.

“It’s like someone striking out in a boat in 1490, it sinking, and people saying, ‘You know what? This whole ocean travel thing isn’t going to work out,’ ” says Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Minneapolis-based research group that tracks municipal projects.

And on the matter of what we could do...

Policymakers could create incentives for local communities to build telecom networks, spurring new competition and growing the new market for entrepreneurs and innovators, especially in areas bypassed or underserved by the big phone and cable companies. Better yet, says Asheville’s Bowen, these incentives could mandate that systems be locally controlled and nonprofit, ensuring that the investment stays in the community.

Yet, fourteen states currently have laws on the books—drafted by phone and cable company lobbyists—restricting municipalities from erecting their own broadband systems. The Community Broadband Act, bipartisan legislation that already passed the Senate Commerce Committee, would tear down the roadblocks. “The first thing we have to do,” Mitchell says, “is make sure that communities that want to solve their own problems, that want to build the network they need, can do that.”

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission also could improve municipal wireless by setting aside a greater portion of the airwaves for public use. Wi-Fi systems operate on narrow “junk bands” already cluttered with cordless phones, baby monitors, and the like, requiring more transmitters and higher costs to set up a network.

Posted June 23, 2011 by christopher

I cannot help but comment on this story that I have seen in multiple places in the tech press. Steve Jobs, when presenting an impressive new headquarters for Apple, is asked by a City Council member if Apple would provide free Wi-Fi for the city.

His reply certainly fits our philosophy:

"I'm a simpleton, I've always had this view that we pay taxes and the city pays to do this kind of thing. Now if we can get out of taxes, I'd be happy to put up Wi-Fi.

Excellent answer. When it comes to broadband, there are absolutely appropriate, strong roles for local governments.

Posted June 9, 2011 by christopher

Ponca City, Oklahoma, has long allowed residents to use a city-owned Wi-Fi network at no charge. They make no promises regarding speed or ability to access the network inside the home because the network primarily serves the needs of police, fire, and other municipal departments.

We briefly wrote about this network in our Breaking the Broadband Monopoly report:

Ponca City, with a population of 25,000, took a different approach to their wireless network than Oklahoma City. With some 75% of their staff having at least one responsibility outside the office, building a wireless network was an obvious decision. The network provides additional safety to police officers – who have cameras that may be monitored from the station in real time in case of problems. City employees can now use VOIP phones instead of the cellular network, which has significant gaps in coverage throughout the city. Like Oklahoma City, reducing cellular charges has created considerable savings.

They also chose a Wi-Fi mesh system because it provides durability even if some of the nodes fail – the network routes around the problem. They started with some 500 wireless nodes to cover thirty square miles but have since decided to expand the network across a larger footprint.

Ponca City is somewhat unique in its decision to open spare capacity on the network to the public for no charge, in an effort to help those who could not afford Internet access on their own. Like Oklahoma City, they too received an award for their network – the 2009 Municipal Innovations Award from the Oklahoma Municipal League.

The City upgraded the network last Tuesday night to double the available capacity:

Since the City of Ponca City installed free Wi-Fi, the number of users and the amount of Internet used has surpassed anyone's expectations.

The current number of unique users is more than 10,000 a day with more than 800 Gigabytes of Internet used in one day.

This is more wireless Internet than anywhere else in the United States, Ponca City's Technology Services Director Craige Baird said.

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