Tag: "public safety"

Posted July 14, 2011 by christopher

Colorado requires a referendum before a local government can build a broadband network as a result of a 2005 law pushed by Qwest to prevent communities from building next-generation networks. So when Longmont wanted to expand its fiber ring to offer residential and business services, they put it to a vote.

They lost with only 44% supporting the measure. But now, more people understand the issue and the community is considering voting again.

We saw the same dynamic in Windom, Minnesota. Almost ten years ago, Windom held a vote to build a muni FTTH network and it failed to gain the Minnesota-required 65% supermajority. After the vote, a number of people wanted to revote because they realized they had been conned by the incumbent phone provider (ahem… Qwest) and only truly understood the issue after the vote had occurred.

City officials wanted no part of another referendum but community champions eventually prevailed and they had a second vote that authorized the community to build the network.

We'll see if Longmont follows suit. An article discussing the re-vote notes that Comcast and Qwest have dumped unprecedented sums into preventing the community from having a new choice:

The first attempt at getting that approval didn't go so well in 2009. According to city records, opponents -- including the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association -- spent $245,513 to defeat that ballot measure, the largest amount ever spent on a Longmont city election. By contrast, the city legally couldn't campaign on its own behalf, and the explanations that were out there didn't explain well, according to Longmont Power & Communications director Tom Roiniotis.

The cable and phone companies created an astroturf group called "No Blank Check" that then used standard fear, uncertainty, and doubt tactics to spread misinformation around the community. A quarter of a million dollars is a drop in the bucket to stop the only real threat of competition these companies face anymore -- locally owned community networks.

The situation in Longmont has attracted the interest of the...

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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 April 19, 2011 by christopher

We have again isolated individual comments from the arguments around Time Warner Cable's bill to strip local authorities of the right to build broadband networks vastly superior to their services. On April 13, the Senate Finance Committee allowed public comment on TWC's H129 bill. Craig Settles has posted an extended story about a small business struggling to get by with the existing paucity of service in her community.

There was no hope that I could efficiently communicate, collaborate, and share online documents and applications with clients and peer professionals. I couldn’t even buy a functional phone line. For years I paid for a level of service from Centurylink that I can only describe as absolutely embarrassing.

This bill will make it vastly harder, if not impossible, for communities to build the necessary infrastructure to succeed in the digital economy. Listening to those pushing the bill, it is very clear they have no conception of the vast difference between barely broadband DSL from CenturyLink and Wilson's Greenlight community fiber network -- essentially the difference between a hang glider and a Boeing 747. And many in North Carolina don't even have access to the hang glider! Yet the Legislature cares more about protecting the monopoly of powerful companies that contribute to their campaigns than ensuring all residents and businesses have access to the fast, affordable, and reliable broadband they need to flourish.

Thanks to Voter Radio for making audio from the hearing available.  Each of the following comments is approximately 2 minutes long.

Posted March 9, 2011 by christopher

The continuing saga of H129/S87 in North Carolina has proved at least one thing, Time Warner Cable knows how to pull the puppet strings. The bill was written by Time Warner Cable and pretends to be about creating a level playing field while it effectively outlaws community networks (and some public safety networks) -- much to Time Warner Cable's financial benefits.

It remains unclear whether Representative Avila, who is championing this TWC power grab, truly knows what she is doing or is simply ignorant and blindly trusts the TWC lobbyists actually running the show.

After Legislators received a torrent of phone calls opposing TWC's bill, Rep Avila promised to negotiate with communities to find some middle ground and ensure the legislation at least grandfathered existing community networks. Instead, she turned the meetings over to TWC to run -- rather than negotiating, they set their terms. She has made multiple public claims about being reasonable but in private, she has made it clear that this is Time Warner Cable's bill.

Communities are dead set against this bill, noting the many ways in which it creates unique barriers for their networks while giving a free pass to TWC. Hardly shocking as TWC wrote the bill and is calling the shots via Rep. Avila (whose own district opposes the bill).

Now Asheville has passed a resolution against the bill [pdf], fearing its passage would derail their public safety network. The staff report explains why:

The stated purpose of the bills is to protect jobs and promote investment in North Carolina. The mechanism for protection is structured as restrictions on local government on engaging in what governing boards deem to be public-purpose communication and/or broadband projects. While one might assume that the bill’s target of...

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Posted April 26, 2010 by christopher

After focusing on the North Carolina battle at the Legislature (regarding whether cities should be allowed to choose to build their own broadband networks or if they should solely have to beg the private sector for investment), I wanted to check in on Salisbury, which is building a FTTH network.

Salisbury has persevered through many obstacles, including finding financing for the project in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Depression. They will begin serving customers this August.

After choosing the name "Fibrant" as the name of the network, they have established a slick web presence at fibrant.com. The site has a a blog, but is rarely updated currently.

Earlier in the month, the local paper discussed the ways in which the fiber network will aid public safety. The short answer is video, video, video.

Video can be used for security cameras (both in public places and in private homes) as well as to give officers better situational awareness when they arrive on a scene. But wireless video access is often the key - both so officers can stream video in the cruiser and because wireless video cameras are easier to place (no pesky wires to run) and move around.

Though wireless video is helpful, it creates of a lot of data that is best moved across fast, reliable, wired networks. This is why fiber-optic networks and wireless are better understood as complements than substitutes. A robust fiber architecture greatly eases the problems incurred by creating a wireless network because the wireless nodes will be more efficient if all are tied into a fiber network. Rather than streaming data across the entire city to send a single feed to a cruiser, a local access point will stream it across a smaller footprint.

"They are potentially looking at helmet cams," Doug Paris said, assistant to the city manager. "Those who are sitting outside (the structure) will be able to see what's going on inside."

It would make little sense for the fireman to have wires coming out of their helmets. But that wireless signal from the helmet probably won't propagate to the fire hall or police station. Instead, a wireless access point near the fire can grab the signal and make it available to anyone...

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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 June 16, 2009 by christopher

Though Danville, Virginia, was hit hard by the simultaneously decline of tobacco and textile industries, the community has responded: Danville Utilities has been building a state of the art all fiber network. Like many communities, they built a backbone and connected the schools and government buildings first. They then started to connect businesses. This summer they will be rolling out a pilot project to connect a few thousand homes to their open services network. As they add more potential subscribers to the network, they will be more attractive to service providers. This should spur competition, increase innovation, reduce prices, and otherwise make the network more desirable to subscribers. Though the open access idea has been somewhat maligned following the troubles of UTOPIA (many of which had nothing to do with the wholesale model), the consulting firm Design Nine has helped both nDanville and The Wired Road move forward with a revised wholesale-only model. This approach may be gaining traction nationally depending on how the rules for the stimulus grants are written: Stimulating Broadband suggests broadband stimulus funding from USDA will favor "projects that will deliver end users a choice of more than one service provider." Back in Danville, the schools have much faster Internet access while shaving their telecom budgets. Other key features are listed on the network's site, including:

The nDanville Medical Network project has begun to connect a majority of doctor’s offices and medical clinics around the city. The network is already being used by the Danville Regional Medical Center to provide super high speed connectivity to satellite clinics and offices in Danville.

Last year, Last Mile featured an article on the network that includes some numbers, goals, and history of the project. Below is a video that discusses some of the benefits of the network.

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