Tag: "Wireless"

Posted July 3, 2012 by christopher

Writing for the American Express Open Forum, author Jack Shultz helped to compile a list of what he considers the best small towns for business in the U.S.

Ponca City made the list and was specifically singled out for the wireless network owned by the City:

This town has a very progressive economic development organization. They even have their own Youtube video promoting Ponca City as the place to locate your business. The city’s history has been shaped by the petroleum industry since Conoco Oil once had their headquarters here. Now, they highlight their fast-track permitting, workforce training, state and local incentive programs and a completely wireless community. [emphasis in original]

A local article in Ponca City News notes,

All residents in the city limits of Ponca City have access to free Wi-Fi adding to the ease of web-based business and small start-ups.

As we have noted many times, publicly owned broadband networks can play an important role in economic development strategies.

Posted June 28, 2012 by lgonzalez

Arlington County, Virginia is taking advantage of a series of planned projects to create their own fiber optic network, ConnectArlington. The County is moving into phase II of its three part plan to improve connectivity with a publicly owned fiber network.

Some creative thinking and inter-agency collaboration seem to be the keys to success in Arlington. Both the County and the Arlington Public Schools will own the new asset. Additionally, the network will improve the County Public Safety network. Back in March, Tanya Roscola reported on the planing and benefits of the ConnectArlington in Government Technology.

Arlington County's cable franchise agreement with Comcast is up for renewal in 2013. As part of that agreement, the schools and county facilities have been connected to each other at no cost to the County. Even though there are still active negotiations, the ConnectArlington website notes that the outcome is uncertain. The County does not know if the new agreement will include the same arrangement. Local leaders are not waiting to find out, citing need in the community and recent opportunities that reduce installation costs. 

Other communities, from Palo Alto in California to Martin County in Florida, have found Comcast pushing unreasonable prices for services in franchise negotiations. Smart communities have invested in their own networks rather than continue depending on Comcast.

Like schools all around the country, Arlington increasingly relies on high-capacity networks for day-to-day functions both in and out of the classroom. Digital textbooks, tablets, and online testing enhance the educational adventure, but require more and more bandwidth and connectivity. From the article:

Through ConnectArlington, Arlington Public Schools will be able to take advantage of Internet2 for distance learning. At no cost, students will be able to communicate with teachers and access electronic textbooks and online courses from wireless hot spots.

The...

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Posted June 19, 2012 by lgonzalez

Riverside, California was just named the Intelligent Community of the Year 2012 by the Intelligent Communities Forum. It is only the fourth U.S. city to win in the 14-year history of the award. Among its top qualifications are a publicly owned fiber optic network linking public buildings (eliminating the need for any leased lines) and a free Wi-Fi network that aids an impressive digital inclusion approach. 

The path to the award began in 2005, when the City hired a full time CIO, Steve Reneker, and launched SmartRiverside as a way to attract technology companies. In addition to efforts to connect to California's reputation as a technology leader, the City invested in the basics. From a Government Technology article:

A year later, the City Council addressed physical infrastructure needs by approving Riverside Renaissance, a $2 billion effort to improve traffic flow; replace aging water, sewer and electric infrastructure; and expand and improve police, fire, parks, library and other community facilities.

“We’ve done a number of things that have changed Riverside to make us competitive,” said Mayor Ron Loveridge.

Part of being competitive was capitalizing on the City's existing fiber network ring, managed and maintained by the City Public Utility. The fiber network was originally focused on running the operational facilities for power and water but according to Reneker, via email:

...over the past 4 years, IT was able to work with our City Manager’s office and finance the construction of fiber to every City facility.  So all telco lines have been eliminated and now all voice, data and video traverses the 1Gb network to City Hall.  In addition, the City went live with City wide WiFi in May 2007, and the fiber was run to 6 tower locations to enable WiFi coverage city wide.

The fiber network provides the needed infrastucture to offer free Wifi all over the City. From the Intelligent Communities website:

A free WiFi network now offers up to 1 Mbps service through 1,600 access points, and exploding demand has led multiple commercial carriers to deploy high-speed broadband across the city. Riding the network is an array...

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Posted June 2, 2012 by christopher

A few weeks ago, I read that Wall Street traders had invested $300 million in a new fiber optic line between Chicago and New York City to shave a few milliseconds off the existing route in order to gain a massive advantage for their computer trading algorithms.

This investment, which could have brought real value to hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in the form of better broadband connecting residents and local businesses was instead squandered on a practice that adds no value to markets. In fact, we might argue it actually distorts markets.

But I bring it up here after reading a fascinating development from Anton Troianovski of the Wall Street Journal. Wall Street traders are now building microwave towers to shave milliseconds off the fiber routes.

"Self," I said, "How can it be that microwave relays are faster than fiber optic lines?" Turns out that these wireless shots can be created in straighter paths, which means the signal has to travel farther in the fiber routes. Once again, it turns out the speed of light can be a limiting factor.

But microwave networks can be faster than their fiber-optic counterparts. Signals shot in a straight line between microwave dishes within sight of each other don't have to negotiate the mountains, buildings and other obstacles that lengthen the trip by cable. Because of their height, cell towers are prime locations for the dishes.

On the downside, microwave networks are less reliable than cables, because signals can be disrupted by bad weather and other interference. They also can't carry as much information.

So I figured this was a good weekend story because of the wireless/fiber angle but also because it is a reminder that Wall Street invests narrowly for its benefit. Extracting value from the market by having a 1 millionth of a second advantage over everyone else provides no value for the rest of us. This is not a system that is rationally allocating capital, it is a system that allows vampires to suck the life out of us. And that is a very good reason to find ways of being self-reliant.

Posted May 30, 2012 by lgonzalez

During 2011, nineteen million miles of fiber optic cable were installed in the United States, according to CRU Group, a global research firm. That means all the fiber that was laid in the U.S. last year could be wrapped around the equator 763 times. It was the largest installation since the boom year of 2000. And the reason has a lot to do with wireless services.

When using 4G on that new mobile phone, your connection is mostly wired. It is wireless from the tower to your hand -- a distance of anywhere from a few thousand feet to a few miles. But probably for hundreds of miles, that connection is on fiber-optic lines.

Before a tower can offer 4G services, it needs a fiber cable, and that is driving a boom in connecting towers. In our recent case studies on Chattanooga, Lafayette, and Bristol, we noted that both Bristol and Chattanooga have connected towers with fiber optics for 4G wireless service from major carriers.

The boom in 2000 was famously short sighted, in part because it was almost all located in major corridors with other fiber cables -- no one was making the last mile connections to residents and local businesses.

Regardless of how much fiber optic lays out there unused, we need more -- but in the right places. A Wall Street Journal article by Anton Troianovski recently discussed the boom in new fiber investment, quoting Hunter Newby, Chief Executive of Allied Fiber:

"The notion there is a fiber glut is not true," Mr. Newby says, arguing that much of the fiber-optic cable that is available is simply not in the right place - not at suburban office parks and cellphone towers that need it.

Allied Fiber is building its own network between New York and Chicago with the intention of offering alternatives to established carriers, including Verizon and AT&T. Newby and Allied believe that other Internet companies, wireless carriers, hospitals, and possible anchor institutions will want the choices they don't have now. By extending their network to the right places, Allied sees opportunity.

These companies are cashing in on a major market failure. Unfortunately, they are likely to just pick the low-hanging fruit, serving the major community anchors but not having a business...

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Posted May 28, 2012 by christopher

Once again, we are reprinting an opinion piece by Wally Bowen, founder of the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network based in Asheville, North Carolina. The op-ed was originally published in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Once upon a time, Internet enthusiasts made the following comparison: the Internet is to 21st-century economies what navigable waterways and roads were to 19th and 20th-century economies.

But what if our rivers and highways were controlled by a private cartel which set tolls and dictated the make and model of our boats and vehicles? It’s unthinkable, of course. Yet over the last decade, a cartel of cable and phone companies has gained this kind of control over more than 95 percent of Internet access in the US.

In response, many communities have built municipal broadband networks. The cartel, in turn, has persuaded legislatures in 19 states, including North Carolina, to pass laws prohibiting municipal networks.

Scholars call this the “enclosure” of the Internet, similar to the enclosure of rural commons by private owners in 18th and 19th-century England. This trend includes smart phones and tablets which are locked down and controlled by licensing agreements. By contrast, the personal computer is open to innovation. You can take it apart, experiment, and create new functionality. You can also download your choice of software, including free open-source programs.

The full impact of this corporate enclosure of the Internet is still to come, but evidence of it is growing. Consider e-books. When you purchase a real book, you enjoy “first sale” ownership. You can resell it or use it as a doorstop. You can do anything with it, except reproduce it. But when you purchase an e-book, your options are limited by a license that can be changed any time by the vendor without your consent.

With an enclosed Internet, we become renters rather than owners. Our freedom to experiment and innovate, while not totally lost, is governed by gatekeepers and licensing regimes.

But there is a way around the Internet gatekeepers: “open wireless” networks using unlicensed spectrum.

Most spectrum used for smartphones is licensed to, and controlled by, the telecom cartel. By contrast, the free Wi-Fi we enjoy in coffeehouses is unlicensed and free for anyone to use and experiment with. But this spectrum has a very...

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Posted May 25, 2012 by lgonzalez

Thurman, New York, like many other rural communities, has little or no access to broadband. Many of the 1,219 residents still use dial-up. According to a recent town survey, less than 25% of the population has connections that could be described as high-speed. Thurman, however, will soon be tapping into an uncommon source for connectivity - so called White Spaces.

In a recent PostStar.com article, Jon Alexander reports that the community is now moving forward with a plan based on using the unused radio spaces between television networks to provide access. It was only recently that the FCC approved the method. The Town Board just approved a resolution to dedicate $20,000.00 in state economic development grants. The funds, about two-thirds of grant funding, will be used to test out the technology in the northern and western sections of town. If the experiment proves successful, additional funding for a build out will need to be allocated.

Thurman, which lies entirely in the Adirondack Park, has been largely ignored by private telecom investment. With such a sparse population, the Town is used to being overlooked. In fact, Federal surveys often show Thurman as uninhabited. Town Board Member Leon Galusha told Alexander, “Believe it or not, people do live here.”

Because the geography of Thurman is hilly and tree-covered and the town's population is spread out, the town is a perfect place to test the White Spaces technology. White Spaces do not require line-of-sight, as in some wireless technology, and vegetation or walls do not interfere with the signal. The technology is becoming more popular in Europe, but has only been used sparingly in the U.S. In order to use the White Space, the town will need access to Frontier Wireless' fiber optic lines, which run through town.

Because the technology is so new, and Thurman could prove to be a test case for other small towns,  the move has attracted attention from state officials. Talks with the Governor's staff and a presentation at one State Rep's broadband symposium have put Thurman in...

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Posted May 24, 2012 by christopher

We previously noted a grassroots wireless initiative in Mount Pleasant that the Open Technology Institute is assisting and we are now cross-posting more details that they recently published. Thanks to Preston Rhea, who published this interview with one of the first volunteers to install a node.

I recently wrote about a local effort to build a wireless community network in Mount Pleasant, Washington, D.C.In April I chatted with Bill Comisky, the first neighbor-link in the Mount Pleasant Community Wireless Network (MtPCWN), a grassroots approach to providing wireless access to the neighborhood. Bill discussed why he installed an Internet-connected mesh router on his roof, his skilled observations and recommendations for the network, and what he hopes to see the network support for the neighborhood in the future.

How did you hear about the network?

I heard about it when you posted to our street’s e-mail list in June. On that super-local list, people like to share things - tools, a cup of sugar, furniture - and it’s also neighborly to share wireless access. I worked with Sascha (Meinrath, Director, Open Technology Institute) on community wireless a few years ago, so it immediately caught my eye.

You’ve worked on this before?

I design antennas for a living, so I have a professional interest. In Chicago, I volunteered with the nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology installing wireless networks in underserved communities. Even though it was only a few years ago, the software and hardware were much less developed than they are today. The equipment cost several hundred dollars and we had to assemble it the hard way ourselves. Since then, things have gotten robust and cheap.

I asked for your advice at the beginning of the project about the technology considerations.

For low-cost technology, a wireless mesh network is a complicated system. It's difficult to estimate how radio waves will operate in an urban environment. You have to consider 2.4 GHz and 5...

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Posted May 21, 2012 by christopher

In a report entitled "Universities as Hubs for Next-Generation Networks," the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation has explored a new path for expanding community networks. The full report is available here [pdf].

This report builds on the Gig.U initiative, in which major universities are working with communities and other partners to expand access to next-generation networks in select areas. We recently wrote about a Gig.U project in Maine.

This approach encourages a very collaborative approach with lots of community input and a mix of fiber-optic lines feeding neighborhood wireless networks. Universities already need robust connections but few have been as bold as Case Western Reserve University, which initiated a project to share a gig with neighbors in Cleveland.

OTI calls on open access fiber links connecting anchor institutions that allow wireless nodes to easily connect. Planning for such interconnection upfront is far preferable to adding it after because interconnection points should be placed in convenient places for wireless transmitters.

The people at OTI have long championed mesh architectures and this report again explores the benefits of such an approach:

Moreover, communities deploying wireless mesh technology can incorporate additional service offerings into their networks. Mesh facilitates the use of a community-wide intranet, allowing all users connected to the mesh to access content and applications from local schools, universities, libraries, religious establishments, social service agencies, local governments, and local anchor institutions.

To the extent that each of these components is also connected to the mesh, the intranet component of the network would be functional even without Internet backhaul connectivity, and might actually run faster than Internet connections.

This is an approach for an engaged citizenry:

Unlike traditional deployment models,...

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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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