Tag: "Wireless"

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 20, 2011 by christopher

Public interest advocates in the telecom arena have long been frustrated with a parade of large, powerful non-profit organizations blindly supporting the positions of powerful telecom companies that just happen to make large donations to those non-profits.

A story this week confirmed the worst of our suppositions: these groups often have little idea of what they are supporting. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation seemed pretty enthused about the AT&T T-Mobile takeover a few weeks ago. Odd for GLAAD to be excited about its constituency paying higher prices for wireless services, but whatever.

Until a few days ago, when we got a look behind the scenes -- AT&T wrote their statement and it was simply signed by the organization's President -- who apparently had no idea what it was about. But he knew that AT&T gives big money to the org. He has since resigned.

Around the time that we learned of the GLAAD shenanigans, we learned how super excited Cattle Ranchers are for the AT&T takeover of T-Mobile. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest this merger will do anything for rural residents but increase the prices they pay. There is no shortage of spectrum in rural areas so T-Mobile offers nothing AT&T cannot do on its own.

And while the Cattle Ranchers are clamoring for higher monthly prices from AT&T, the single best hope for rapidly expanding wireless broadband access in rural areas - the unlicensed white spaces - is being quietly killed. Ironic, ain't it?

I have long supported the efforts of the Media Action Grassroots, which works to organize and educate people about essential issues in telecom and media. They work with real people and represent real people's interests all the time, not just when it doesn't conflict with a big donor. We need to support organizations that support our values, particularly when it is inconvenient to do so.

Update: More of the media is finally starting to take notice of the obvious:...

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Posted June 16, 2011 by christopher

We have previously covered the East Central Vermont Fiber Network and their local frustrations at receiving little state or federal support in building a next-generation network. The feds and state government seem too heavily influenced by those with lobbying clout -- leading to subsidies to build lesser networks that local do not want.

They want real Internet, not another wireless promise that fails to deliver. A story from Vermont Public Radio discusses increased tensions as the networks struggle over a few community anchor tenants to help finance the rest of the network. Here, Loredo Sola of EC Fiber explains the problem:

SoverNet will own the infrastructure but is required to provide bandwidth at wholesale cost to providers who extend the service outward.

Loredo Sola is skeptical. He says he's already lost one institutional contract to the SoverNet project. He says that's forced E.C. Fiber to scrap its plans to serve smaller users in the area.

Sovernet is building a middle mile network connection community anchor institutions, but is an example of the exact wrong way to do it. Supposedly, the investment (the vast majority of which is funded by a federal stimulus award) will allow more ISPs to build more last mile networks as they have access to better backhaul.

But lowering the operating cost of a network does very little to make that network affordable to build. The high up front capital costs are what limit broadband in rural (and urban too!) areas. Compounding the problem is what Sola mentions above, Sovernet is taking the key anchor institutions off the board with its project so communities are actually left with a harder business case to connect themselves.

Groups like the Vermont Telecommunications Authority are so proud of having solved a short term problem, they have totally missed the fact that the longer term problem of making sure everyone has fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet is now much harder to solve.

When I first read about the WiscNet situation, I was interested to learn that it acted as an ISP but rarely provided the physical connections --...

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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 May 26, 2011 by christopher

We at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance signed on to a letter organized by our friends at the Media Action Grassroots Network asking the FCC and Department of Justice to thoroughly review AT&T's proposed takeover of T-Mobile -- read the press release.

“Our communities cannot afford higher prices and less choices. We need the FCC and DOJ to block this takeover if it's found to be in violation of antitrust law and does not meet public interest obligations,” said Betty Yu, National Organizer for MAG-Net.

"If AT&T takes over T-Mobile, it will be a disaster for all mobile phone users. It will stifle information, choice and innovation- and lead to higher prices and fewer jobs nationwide, added CMJ's Policy Director, amalia deloney. "It's a real jobs and democracy killer.”

The groups also contend the takeover will disproportionately harm consumers of color, who rely on their cell phones to access the Internet more than whites. While 10 percent of whites access the Internet only from their phones, 18 percent of blacks and 16 percent of English-speaking Latinos depend on affordable wireless coverage to get online.

And an excerpt from the letter [pdf]:

The impact that this merger would have on affordable mobile phone service, broadband access and adoption, openness on the mobile web and broadband competition presents a real threat to our communities. We hope that the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission will examine AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile with appropriate scrutiny and protect our communities by blocking this merger.

We intend to host a series of open and participatory meetings in our communities to discuss this merger, and we hope that FCC Commissioners will commit to joining us. It is only by communicating directly with people and hearing our stories that you will feel our deep concerns with this merger and the devastating impact it would have on our communities.

We continue to advocate for universal, affordable, fast, and reliable broadband, which to us means a wired connection eventually to all homes that are...

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Posted May 11, 2011 by christopher

We are hearing exciting news from western Massachusetts -- at least 17 towns have already held the necessary meetings and votes to join the Wired West cooperative that will build an open access, universal, FTTH broadband network in each of the member towns. This is an exciting project in a region largely left behind by cable and phone companies.

Back in January, we described the steps necessary to form a "Municipal Light Plant," in each community but a recent update from Wired West reminds us about the specifics:

Town participation in the WiredWest municipal telecommunications cooperative requires passing two consecutive town votes at separate meetings to establish Municipal Light Plant (MLP) legislation in the town. The MLP legislation was created in the Commonwealth over 100 years ago to enable towns to generate their own electricity. In 1996, the ability for towns to offer telecommunications services was added to the MLP statute. WiredWest charter towns researched various governance options and determined this was the best choice for enabling towns to offer telecommunications services, work together cooperatively and issue municipal debt to capitalize the network.

Towns have been passing the 2/3 votes with overwhelming approval, as in the town of Florida, with a 30-1 vote.

Wired West is maintaining an impressive map of the status of each town along the path. Clicking on a town brings up more information about that town. Kudos to them for making a great map that is easy to use and conveys a lot of information.

The Berkshire Eagle recently published an op-ed discussing the importance of economic development in the area:

Because many Berkshirites work, either at home or in an office, in towns without high-speed Internet service, making such connections widely available is vital to economic development in the county. I’m a volunteer with WiredWest, a cooperative effort of 47 towns in...

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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 March 18, 2011 by christopher

Clearwire, which brags that it built the first 4G network in the country, is under assault from its customers.

Customers began complaining in mid-2010 that Clearwire had begun to throttle their home Internet connections, sometimes as slow as 256Kbps. It wasn't clear (ba-dum ching) at the time as to what standard Clearwire was using in order to trigger the throttling—some users were told about monthly usage caps while others were simply told that there were certain times of day in which the network would be congested. Customers were frustrated at this lack of transparency, and complaints began piling up all over the Web.

We were told for years that WiMax would obviate the need for last-mile wired connections. Now we are told that 4G LTE will solve those problems - and gullible reporters gush about how fast their connections are in these early days as the network is built. This is akin to driving on a metro interstate at 3AM and wondering why anyone would ever complain about rush hour traffic. 4G networks will likely be much better than 3G (it is a higher number, after all) but it remains to be seen how well they perform in real world conditions when many devices can actually attach and congest them.

We remain skeptical of wireless as a solution to last-mile problems. Wireless does little more than take a high-capacity wired connection and split it among hundreds or thousands of users - while reducing its reliability.

Posted March 15, 2011 by christopher

I continue to find it odd that more communities with publicly owned networks do not create official videos or other promotional material that is readily accessible on the Internet.  Videos discussing fiber-optic investments continue to be the exception to the rule. 

But it was a video promoting Chanute's fiber-to-the-business network that I stumbled across in a search for something else.  It turns out that Chanute has built a network with a variety of current and planned uses:

  • Smart Grid
  • Energy Management
  • Utility SCADA Systems
  • Interactive Distance Learning (IDL)
  • Free WiFi Hotspots
  • Telemedicine
  • College – using broadband for testing, building partnerships
  • City – meeting broadcasts, pool construction, public awareness, accounting, record-keeping, collaborations with other entities, security, emergency communications, and back up to the county 911 emergency operation center.
  • Real-time video surveillance of public assets – Chanute currently monitors over 40 high resolution video cameras connected to its community network. These cameras provide improved public safety and enhance security for the community’s public assets. The cameras can be configured individually for viewing by the City from various display terminals within the City’s emergency operations center, and at governmental, utility and public safety department offices. Video surveillance images from the school district and the local community college can be viewed by government officials.

They have also made significant wireless investments for redundancy:

We have a City-owned Broadband Wireless Network which also provides back up to the fiber system for critical facilities in the community. Most of the broadband wireless links are dedicated to the private use of the City to support its utility operations, video surveillance, and provide wireless backup in the event of a fiber segment failure. There is one commercial customer that uses this as a primary source for Internet connectivity. Chanute views these wireless assets as a mechanism to provide immediate access to the community’s network to support the short-term commercial needs of businesses in Chanute. The wireless links can be deployed rapidly, sometimes in less than 24 hours, until such time as the fiber infrastructure can be extended to the...

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