Tag: "Wi-Fi"

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.

Posted June 1, 2011 by christopher

MuniWireless has published a story noting the outcome of Tempe's lawsuit against Commonwealth Capital Corp in which the city was awarded $1.8 million in pole rental charges from a private company dealing with a failed Wi-Fi network.

Tempe, like many other communities circa 2006, had hoped a private company would be able to build and run a citywide Wi-Fi network that would create another broadband option for residents and businesses frustrated with the DSL/cable duopoly. For a variety of reasons, nearly all of these networks failed to deliver on promises and were either abandoned or turned into occasional hotspots.

Unfortunately, the term "Muni Wireless" was used to describe these networks despite the fact that local governments had little more to do with them than they do with franchising cable companies (and Comcast is not called "Muni cable"). Regardless, the general failure of Wi-Fi to match the hype gave muni broadband and community broadband a bad name due in part to this inappropriate "Muni Wireless" title.

What I found interesting about the MuniWireless.com story about Tempe is the section entitled "What should Tempe do now?" This is an excellent question. The suggestions offered by Esme Vos are interesting and worth mulling over. Over time, I hope the comments add some more suggestions.

Posted April 19, 2011 by christopher

A program from the New America Foundation discussing community wireless (including international perspectives) and the digital divide.

 

Video streaming by Ustream

Posted November 22, 2010 by christopher

Washington, DC, has greatly increased the available free Wi-Fi hotspots available to those hanging out on the National Mall. DC-Net is a massive fiber-optic network used by public agencies, schools, community institutions, etc. and offers connections that are faster, less expensive, and more reliable than could be achieved by relying on leased connections from private providers. And now it is using this network to improve our experiences when we visit our capital (or Capitol for that matter). DC-Net hotspot map

[T]he District of Columbia announced additions to its citywide wireless internet initiative. Over 220 Wi-Fi hotspots have been linked up to provide free Web access for city residents, visitors and businesses, District Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Bryan Sivak said in a statement. The municipal Wi-Fi network now extends coverage on the National Mall, from 3rd Street on the east to 14th Street on the west. The Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) partnered with several federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce and the General Services Administration. Hardware and Internet services were donated by Cisco and Level 3.

A more detailed explanation of both achievements and goals of the program notes:

In response to the growth of wireless hotspot users and in an effort to improve the overall wireless user experience, DC-Net increased the capacity of the wireless network from support for 1896 concurrent users in FY 09 to 6464 users in FY 10. It also tripled the number of wireless access devices deployed from 1,000 in FY 09 to 3,100 in FY 10, while modestly increasing hotspot locations from 218 in FY 09 to 230 in FY 10, thereby strengthening hotspot capacity. Wireless bandwidth also nearly tripled, from 50 Mbps in FY 09 to 130 Mbps in FY 10. Hotspots support 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi standards and user access speeds up to 20 Mbps.

The Wi-Fi network is both for visitors as well as City employees who have access to a secure wireless network to improve their...

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Posted November 17, 2010 by christopher

Today, we at MuniNetworks.org have released the first of a series of regional broadband comparisons examining the benefits of community networks. We decided to start with the Minneapolis / St Paul area, where we live and work. Read the Analysis [pdf]
Read the Press Release
Our analysis, "Twin Cities Broadband No Match For Community Network," compares the available broadband plans in Minneapolis and St. Paul to small town Monticello, located 45 miles NW of Minneapolis. Monticello, as we have frequently discussed, has built a publicly owned FTTH network (which then pushed its telco incumbent to invest in much faster connections as well). Despite Comcast's much touted DOCSIS 3 upgrades and Qwest's "Heavy Duty" DSL, neither comes close to the value of Monticello's services. These companies have continued to use last-generation DSL and cable technologies with significant downfalls, including much slower upstream speeds than downstream -- a limitation particularly damaging to small businesses and people attempting to work from home. Qwest advertises "fiber-optic fast" but its speeds come nowhere near Monticello's actual fiber-optic network. Further, Qwest's actual speeds are often far below their claims due to limitations with DSL technologies. Comcast offers faster speeds than Qwest, even advertising a 50 Mbps downstream speed that appears to rival Monticello's until you consider the Comcast cable architecture rarely delivers promised speeds because entire neighborhoods have to share bandwidth. Both providers struggle to deliver fast upstream speeds, whereas Monticello's network services all include upstream speeds just as fast as the downstream speeds. When it comes to prices, Monticello's are lower, despite the faster speeds they offer. Minneapolis residents have access to a low-cost Wi-Fi network, but in that case, the low cost reflects the slower available speeds and significantly lower reliability. Our analysis also includes Clear, a new Wi-Max provider, to discredit any claims that 4G wireless will somehow change the fundamental dynamic at work in the Twin Cities: Comcast and Qwest are content to deliver 2nd rate speeds at inflated prices. Wireless provider have...

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Posted November 14, 2010 by christopher

Communities with both smart-grid investments as well as community networks are again in the news, this time featuring Chattanooga, Leesburg, and Ponca City. Thanks to my colleague at EnergySelfReliantStates.org, who posted this item. ESRS publishes original content about decentralized renewable energy - mostly of a quantitative nature using charts.

Perhaps one of the reasons the broadband networks run by public power utilities are so much more reliable than those run by telco and cablecos is the many decades that public power companies have focused intently on reliability.

Reliability is a good economic development tool, he said. One business looking at Chattanooga asked about the cost of a redundant feed. After EPB explained its smart grid plans, the company chose Chattanooga and decided it didn’t need a redundant feed, he said. In talking to businesses, "I can tell you ... that they get it and they get the importance of this level of automation."

The article offered more details about Ponca City's wireless network that we had previously not discussed. In addition to offering free Wi-Fi to residents, the Ponca City offers fiber-optic-based broadband to local businesses... and two are quite connected.

Perhaps the most eye-opening benefit is that Ponca City offers all of its 26,000 citizens free WiFi service. The city uses its fiber network to sell broadband services to businesses (one has requested 300 mbps service) and those sales pay for the free WiFi, Baird said. The network is basically support-free, said Baird, adding that he gets one or two calls per week. And the free WiFi is "a huge economic development draw," he said.

Posted July 23, 2010 by christopher

A Qwest sales person admits on tape that Qwest is trying to eliminate competition by purging the network of independent ISPs. Listen to the conversation here.

Customer: "Qwest is trying to eliminate competition?"

Customer Service Rep: "In a way."

Undoubtedly, Qwest will (if it has not already) disavow this quote and suggest the CSR just didn't know what she was talking about. But they are clearly trying to remove competition - something we have witnessed in the Twin Cities of Minnesota as the good ISPs (for instance, IP House) are slowly strangled because they are not permitted resell the faster circuits. Additionally, I believe allegations that Qwest deliberately allows more congestion on lines they resell than lines where they are the sole retailer.

Our office uses IP House and we have never had anything but good experiences with them. But we need a faster services, so we can choose between slightly faster options with Qwest or much faster options with Comcast. We have no choice but to take service from a crappy massive company if we want to maintain productivity.

Some would claim that we have additional choices because USIW runs a Wi-Fi network in Minneapolis (subsidized by the City) but the network's speeds cannot compare to Comcast and it is far less reliable than the wired network alternatives (though Qwest's reliability in some areas may actually be worse).

I found this story via the Free UTOPIA blog but it links to the original source on Xmission - a UTOPIA service provider and DSL resellter.

Posted June 13, 2010 by christopher

MuniWireless.com has updated their list of cities that have large scale Wi-Fi networks. The list combines communities that own the network with cities that have networks owned and controlled by private companies, but it is a useful starting point for anyone looking to find cities that have explored this wireless technology.

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