TMCNET interviews Jory Wolf - the CIO of Santa Monica's Information Systems Department - about their application for broadband stimulus funds. Santa Monica has long used its publicly owned network to expand broadband access in the community.
Our Santa Monica City Net and City WiFi (News - Alert) project will provide the equipment and connections required to expand the City’s free WiFi service that delivers Internet access to the public at our libraries, open space areas, community centers, homeless shelter, senior centers and animal shelters. In addition, our project will provide a connection to over 200 ISPs to obtain affordable broadband options to local businesses and increase the competitiveness of our country’s preeminent post-production companies and intellectual exports located in Santa Monica, Calif.
South Hadley, a small town in Massachusetts, may expand its modest fiber network (currently connecting schools, police, and town hall to others in town. Its municipal power company is evaluating options.
Baltimore City Paper ran a column discussing the Monticello, MN, city-owned network and the attacks against it by TDS Telecom. This accounting of the history has some errant details, but I found it fascinating how far the Monticello story has spread.
Tropos is a California-based company that sells wireless networking gear, frequently to municipalities. They filed comments with the FCC regarding the National Broadband Plan in response to the request: "Comment Sought on the Contribution of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Government to Broadband."
We fully support their framing of the issue:
Municipalities that own and control their wireless broadband networks, operate public services more efficiently, prioritize broadband traffic for emergencies, and put unused bandwidth to use to attract new businesses, afford educational opportunities to students and in many cases, provide free broadband access to unserved or underserved residents.
Tropos calls for an end to preemption on community networks.
Congress should not adopt legislation that would prohibit local governments from building and operating broadband networks to provide services within a community. Local governments should have the freedom to make decisions on how they want to provide broadband within their community.
And finally, Tropos harkens back to the same political battles from one hundred years ago:
A century ago, when inexpensive electricity was available to only a small fraction of the U.S. population, incumbent suppliers of electricity sought to prevent the public sector from offering electricity for many of the same reasons incumbent broadband providers now argue against community broadband deployment and services. Back then, incumbents sought to limit competition by arguing that local governments didn’t have the expertise to offer something as complex as electricity. They argued that their own businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. Local community leaders recognized that their economic survival and the health and welfare of their citizens depended on wiring their communities. They understood that it would take both private and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans. Fortunately, they prevailed. Just as municipal electric systems proved critical to making access to electric service universal in the 20th Century, municipal networks can be part of the solution in making broadband access universal in the 21st Century – and should be included in the build-out of a national broadband infrastructure.
As we have noted previously, Longmont, Colorado, has seen a number of private companies attempt to offer Wi-Fi broadband and then go out of business. As Colorado preempts local authority by requiring a referendum by the city before it can offer services itself, Longmont recently had a vote to authorize telecommunications services. Voters defeated the option.
As is common in these referendums, voters were blanketed with reasons to vote against it as incumbents (Qwest and Comcast) spent $200,000 opposing competition whereas the city is prevented by law from advocating for a ballot measure.
Now the Wi-Fi network will be auctioned off in pieces because it cannot pay taxes.
Ohio-based DHB Networks owes the Boulder County treasurer’s office $87,000 in unpaid business personal property tax, and the county demanded the company cease operations unless it pays those taxes.
DHB also owes the city of Longmont. Longmont-based RidgeviewTel is running the network, at least until the Wi-Fi equipment is auctioned off Thursday — at which point, 400 to 600 customers will be without Internet access, RidgeviewTel CEO Vince Jordan said.
Though the city already has fiber assets that could be used for backhaul as well as other expertise it could use in continuing to run the network, it cannot step in to run a network that would be useful to the community:
While the city can step in and operate the system, it would be only for municipal needs — such as police, fire and utility services — and not to provide Wi-Fi to customers.
“Our hands were always tied,” Roiniotis said. “We could buy the system and operate it, but only for our own purposes. We can’t provide the retail part of it.”
The city’s hands also were tied when it came to campaigning. State law bans governments from spending public money to campaign for or against local ballot questions.
Though 400-600 people may not seem like a lot of people to leave stranded, many of those on the network were the ones that needed a low cost alternative. This is one of the reason some hoped for a last minute resolution to the...Read more
Last year, Oklahoma City launched the world's largest muni Wi-Fi mesh network (not residential use, just public safety and other muni uses). Shortly thereafter, they won an award for the public safety aspects of the network.
A GovPro story now suggests networks like this Oklahoma City network could be leading a renaissance for muni wireless networks:
For instance, three years ago, Oklahoma City launched a muni-wireless broadband network using equipment from Tropos Networks covering 555 square miles. Today it has been adopted as the primary network used by all city departments.
Mark Meier, Oklahoma City’s chief technology officer recently indicated that the city has derived approximately $10 million in value from its broadband network to date. "Some of our critical public safety applications required redundant wireless connectivity, but the cellular data cards have remained virtually unused and handle less than 1 percent of our traffic which has resulted in significant cost savings for the city," he says.
Many have held up the CyberSpot Wi-Fi network in Florida's Saint Cloud as a successful example of public provisioning of wireless. From my perspective, the network was always interesting in that it did not attempt to pay for itself out of network revenues. The city built the network and provided services over the 15 square miles for free - they viewed it as a public service. The network start-up cost was $2.5 million and was funded by the Economic Development Fund. It cost another $370,000 each year in operating costs - some $30,000 a month. Some 77% of the city used the network within half a year according to Free Press. St. Cloud has some 30,000 people and had at least 8500 unique devices connect to it monthly in recent months - due to NAT routers (non-geeks, ignore this) we can safely assume that there are more than 8500 devices using the network. In order to keep the local taxes level, the City Council decided to cut Cyberspot along with a number of a other programs. Popular outrage led to another meeting in which many people testified that they wanted the network to remain funded. The Orlando Sentinel covered the extension of the city service for 3 more months and public reaction:
Scores of angry residents packed commission chambers Thursday, demanding that the city not pull the plug. " St. Cloud is not a hick town anymore," said resident Keith Harris. "We're country folks, but we're not backwards. One of the reasons for that is our Internet."
One of the people (in part 2 - the second video below) noted that the cost to him for raising taxes to cover CyberSpot would be a few dollars a month. The cost of eliminating CyberSpot to him is far greater - he will now have to pay ten times as much to get an Internet connection. I watched the first half hour of the meeting and found the public comments quite interesting. The rest are probably interesting as well - you can find all the videos here. Update: The network stopped offering public service on February 16, 2010.... Read more
- What exactly is a Community Fiber Network?
- Who offers services?
- What does public ownership mean?
- Why publicly owned? Aren't private companies more efficient?
- I heard there is tons of dark fiber available - why do we need more fiber?
- What if a better technology comes along in a few years?
- Doesn't fiber break easily?
- Don't existing companies already have fiber networks?
- DOCSIS 3, isn't that as good as fiber?
- Should government compete with the private sector?
- Do we really need faster connections?
- Symmetric? Asymmetric? Huh?
- Why not wireless?
- What happened to the whole muni-wireless thing?
- What about WiMAX?
- What about broadband over powerlines?
A Community Fiber Network is a community-owned broadband network that uses fiber-optic cables to connect all subscribers. It can offer phone, television, and Internet access. The capacity on the network is so great that it could offer tens of thousands of television channels while allowing thousands of people to talk on the phone while still offering Internet access at faster speeds than a cable modem system or DSL currently offer.
In some communities, the local government (Monticello) or public power utility (Chattanooga) has a department that provides video, phone, and Internet services. In others, the network is only open to private service providers who compete for customers on equal terms (this would be an open network, Report: Open Access:...
Municipal and industrial organizations that want to take advantage of the significant benefits of large-scale broadband infrastructure face the option of whether to build, own and operate their own infrastructure or “rent” services from incumbent cellular providers. In this paper we lay out the substantial business and technical benefits that are associated with organizations opting to own the latest generation of outdoor wireless networks.
This paper is targeted primarily at municipalities and discusses how a wireless infrastructure can benefit public safety, fire and EMS, and city departments such as water and building inspections. Other wireless utility applications such as Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) or Automated Meter Reading (AMR) are also presented. This paper also examines wireless applications for mobile workforces engaged in industrial applications, such as port operations, construction and mining.
Registration required for downloading.
“Pri-Fi” = A broadband delivery model in which a private-sector wireless provider constructs, own, and operates a WiFi network in a major city without requiring any substantial commitments from the city or exposing the city or its taxpayers to any financial risk. When such projects fail, as they usually do, opponents of municipal broadband misrepresent them as failed municipal projects and cite them as proof that public broadband projects are failures.
The United States, creator of the Internet, increasingly lags in access to it. In the absence of a national broadband strategy, many communities have invested in broadband infrastructure, especially wireless broadband, to offer broadband choices to their residents.
Newspaper headlines trumpeting the death of municipal wireless networks ignore the increasing investments by cities in Wi-Fi systems. At the same time, the wireless focus by others diverts resources and action away from building the necessary long term foundation for high speed information: fiber optic networks.
DSL and cable networks cannot offer the speeds required by a city wishing to compete in the digital economy. Business, government, and citizens all need affordable and fast access to information networks.
Today's decisions will lay the foundation of telecommunications infrastructure for decades. Fortunately, we already know the solution: wireless solves the mobility problem; fiber solves the speed and capacity problems; and public ownership offers a network built to benefit the community.