Tag: "Wi-Fi"

Posted May 3, 2010 by christopher

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is pleased to release this comprehensive report on the practices and philosophy of publicly owned networks. Breaking the Broadband Monopoly explains how public ownership of networks differs from private, evaluates existing publicly owned networks, details the obstacles to public ownership, offers lesson learned, and wrestles with the appeal and difficulty of the open access approach.

Download Breaking the Broadband Monopoly [pdf]

Executive Summary

Across the country, hundreds of local governments, public power utilities, non-profits, and cooperatives have built successful and sometimes pioneering telecommunication networks that put community needs first.

These communities are following in the footsteps of the publicly owned power networks put in place a century before. We watch history repeating itself as these new networks are built for the same reasons: Incumbents refusing to provide service or charging high rates for poor service.

Cities like Lafayette, Louisiana, and Monticello, Minnesota, offer the fastest speeds at the lowest rates in the entire country. Kutztown’s network in Pennsylvania has saved the community millions of dollars. Oklahoma City’s massive wireless mesh has helped modernize its municipal agencies. Cities in Utah have created a true broadband market with many independent service providers competing for subscribers. From DC to Santa Monica, communities have connected schools and municipal facilities, radically increasing broadband capacity without increasing telecom budgets.

These pioneering cities have had to struggle against many obstacles, often created by incumbents seeking to prevent the only real threat of competition they face. Eighteen states have passed laws that discourage publicly owned networks. When lawsuits by entrenched incumbents don’t thwart a publicly owned system, they cross-subsidize from non-competitive markets to temporarily reduce rates in an attempt to starve the infant public network of subscribers.

Despite these obstacles, more and more cities are building these networks and learning how to operate in the challenging new era in which all media is online and a high speed tele-communications network is as much a part of the essential infrastructure of...

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Posted April 23, 2010 by christopher

David Pogue, a NY Times Tech columnist, recently wrote about a partnership between cable companies to share Wi-Fi access points:

I, a Cablevision customer, can now use all of Time Warner’s and Comcast’s hot spots in these three states. If you have Time Warner’s Road Runner service at home, you’re now welcome to hop onto Cablevision’s Optimum hot spots wherever you find them, or Comcast’s Xfinity hot spots. And so on. It’s as though all three companies have merged for the purpose of accommodating your Wi-Fi gadget, hugely multiplying the number of hot spots that are available to you.

The companies call this kind of partnership “the first of many.”

Now, I think this development is fantastic. It hits me where I live. It’s free. It’s fast and reliable. I love it.

He goes on to ask, what's in it for them? Apparently, David Pogue has little understanding of how dominant firms work together to cement their power and limit competition.

He then put up a post with an answer from an insider:

“David, widely available WiFi makes our service better, and more useful and valuable,” he wrote. “And we don’t compete directly with TWC or Comcast for high-speed Internet customers; we compete with phone companies that offer a wide array of services, including data plans over increasingly over-burdened and sluggish cellular networks for an extra $60 per month."

Bingo. Big cable companies do not compete with each other - one suspects these companies have tacitly divided the national cable market with an understanding that they will not overbuild each other. The barriers to entering the cable/broadband market are already substantial: any new network requires a massive upfront capital expenditure. This Wi-Fi partnership with cable incumbents makes that barrier even larger.

Let's imagine that a city wants to build a publicly owned network that will compete with one of these companies. Customers of the private incumbent have Wi-Fi access all over the place, across three states - and probably more to come. The incumbent gets the benefit of investments from other cable cos in the partnership.

Any guesses on whether the publicly owned network will be...

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Posted February 28, 2010 by christopher

Though it may not be a major selling point for communities considering building a network, they can offer tremendous research potential. Local communities are more approachable for researchers and more likely to form mutually beneficial partnerships. Consider an interesting story about the Oklahoma City Wi-Fi network and weather researchers.

This is a massive network -- at 555 square miles, the largest in the world. Local universities have teamed up with the city to closely monitor the weather constantly throughout the network. This data is useful in tracking how air currents move around a city - which is really helpful for those trying to understand and mitigate terrorist chemical or biological weapon attacks... for instance.

This is just one of some 200 applications the City uses its network for:

Steve Eaton, information security architect for Oklahoma City, characterizes the project as the most unique application the city utilizes. The Wi-Fi network currently runs about 200 applications that range from video surveillance to GPS tracking systems.

Posted February 10, 2010 by christopher

I've often wondered what it would look like if a reporter wrote about a Wi-Fi network without any ideological baggage to slam it. Now you can see - Mollee Francisco wrote a lengthy and fair article for a local paper in Chaska, a suburb of Minneapolis. Like so many publicly owned citywide Wi-Fi networks, Chaska.Net accomplished many goals but was a disappointment for others. In particular, it was more expensive and the technology was more difficult than expected, but it introduced faster broadband than was available at the time. It continues to service 2100 customers, one of which is a household with close friends of mine. They love having the option of taking service from the City - they've been happy with the customer support and lower prices. That the speeds are slower than what cable networks offer doesn't bother them, they prefer to save the money. The article also discusses the wireless network in Buffalo, Minnesota, a city further away from the metro than Chaska that sees a brighter future for its public wireless network.

Posted December 10, 2009 by christopher
  • 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.

Photo from public domain

Posted November 20, 2009 by christopher

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.

The...

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Posted November 16, 2009 by christopher

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...

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Posted October 15, 2009 by christopher

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.

Posted October 8, 2009 by christopher

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
Posted May 18, 2009 by christopher

F.A.Q.

  1. What exactly is a Community Fiber Network?
  2. Who offers services?
  3. What does public ownership mean?
  4. Why publicly owned? Aren't private companies more efficient?
  5. I heard there is tons of dark fiber available - why do we need more fiber?
  6. What if a better technology comes along in a few years?
  7. Doesn't fiber break easily?
  8. Don't existing companies already have fiber networks?
  9. DOCSIS 3, isn't that as good as fiber?
  10. Should government compete with the private sector?
  11. Do we really need faster connections?
  12. Symmetric? Asymmetric? Huh?
  13. Why not wireless?
  14. What happened to the whole muni-wireless thing?
  15. What about WiMAX?
  16. What about broadband over powerlines?


Answers

  1. What exactly is a Community Fiber Network?

    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.

  2. Return to top

  3. Who offers services?

    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:...

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