Tag: "mesh"

Posted September 15, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed with stark clarity the impact of the digital divide across the country, and exacerbated the problem especially among the economically disadvantaged and in communities of color. With the onset of a new school year, school boards, city councils, and local governments have been distributing hotspots, equipping buses with Wi-Fi, and subsidizing subscription plans so that students can continue to learn over the summer. This week on the podcast Christopher talks with one community in California that took efforts to connect residents a step further.

Christopher is joined by Rebecca Woodbury, San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government, and Air Gallegos, Director of Education & Career for the nonprofit Canal Alliance, who together worked with a coalition of dedicated people to begin building a neighborhood-wide Wi-Fi mesh network over the summer in response to the pandemic, and connect one of the city’s most vulnerable populations: those living in San Rafael's Canal neighborhood. Christopher, Rebecca, and Air talk about how it all came together, the impacts it’s already having, and the forethought that went into the network. 

They discuss the city’s work and the participation of local volunteers who helped jumpstart the effort, and the pivotal role played by the Canal Alliance, which has been fighting digital divide in the neighborhood for decades. The group also discusses lessons learned, expanding the network to reach as many resident as possible, and the ways that the coalition has tried to ensure that San Rafael’s Wi-Fi Mesh network works not just for the Canal neighborhood now, but in the future.

For additional detail on the San Rafael project, see our earlier story.

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Posted September 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Marin County and the city of San Rafael, California, are demonstrating what happens when local government, a community nonprofit, and generous stakeholders come together to do something right. Over the summer they’ve built a Wi-Fi mesh network in the city’s Canal neighborhood to connect over 2,000 students and their families in anticipation of the upcoming school year. How the project unfolded shows what a thoughtful, committed group of people can do to respond to a public health crisis, close the digital divide, and make a long-term commitment to the vulnerable communities around them. 

A Neighborhood in Need

The Canal neighborhood (pop. 12,000) was founded in the 1950s and sits in the southeast corner of Marin County, bounded by the San Francisco Bay to the east, the city of San Quentin to the south, China Camp State Park to the north, and the Mount Tamalpais Watershed to the west. It’s split down the middle by Highway 101 and Interstate 580.

Canal is populated by predominantly low-income workers, and remains one of the most densely settled areas in Marin County — one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. Its residents serve, according to San Rafael Director of Digital Services and Open Government Rebecca Woodbury, as the backbone of the area’s service economy. Those who live there are mostly Latinx residents, with a small but significant segment who identify as Vietnamese. A 2015 study highlighted the challenges the community faces. Its population grew by half between 1990 and 2013, while available housing units grew by just 15%. During the same period, median household income shrunk by nearly a third, and unemployment remains twice as high in Canal than in the rest of Marin. It suffers from the largest education disparity in the entire state. It’s also among the hardest hit in the community by the coronavirus pandemic: the Latinx population in Canal accounts for just 16% of Marin County but 71% of cases so far.

Canal neighborhood residents are also among the least connected in the county. A recent survey by local nonprofit Canal Alliance showed that 57% of residents don’t own a computer, compared to just 10% of those...

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Posted July 21, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast Christopher speaks with Deborah Simpier, CEO of Althea. Althea offers software and tools for communities looking to build and maintain sustainable networks in their own communities. 

Althea works by installing custom firmware on the routers of its member-operators, connecting them all together in a fixed wireless, ad hoc network that dynamically responds to the supply and demand of individual users. That network is then linked to a commercial-grade backhaul, and users pay each other for bandwidth while configuring their own connection preferences and needs. Althea’s innovative software and staff help manage the network in real-time. The result is a decentralized, flexible, privacy-focused community of devices. Althea exists in more that three dozen communities around the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Deborah reflects on how she came to the broadband space, and the origins of the first Althea network. Christopher and Deborah discuss what it means to play a central role in empowering communities to help create their own sustainable networks, and watching people put in Internet infrastructure themselves and take ownership. One example is Enfield, North Carolina, a state with some of the most onerous broadband restrictions which have resulted in poor connectivity options for that community. 

For related coverage of broadband efforts in North Carolina or mesh networks in action, search those tags at MuniNets.org.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show; please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

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This show is 32 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the...

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Posted June 9, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks to Scott Rasmussen, an organizer with the nonprofit, volunteer-run community network NYC Mesh. Scott shares his experiences connecting residential New Yorkers and local businesses across the city to fixed wireless, and the creative solutions they’ve taken to build a hyperlocal network in a cityscape of tall buildings.

Scott and Christopher also discuss the impact and potential of locally owned mesh networks. They talk about reliability and resiliency, and how the design and deployment of NYC Mesh meant that it was among the few to remain online after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. They talk about the power of self-determination and decentralization, and how owning the network offers opportunities to build neighborhood cohesiveness and empower the community. They talk about the power of a network that’s not artificially throttled to support price tiers, doesn’t fund big monopoly telecoms, and prevents its traffic from data mining for advertising efforts.

Scott describes NYC Mesh’s commitment to diversity, transparency, equity, education, and outreach, and how the network’s structure and financing — it’s entirely funded by voluntary recurring donations of $20 by member-owners — mean that no one loses connectivity during times of hardship. NYC Mesh also has a number of projects aimed at affordable housing, and he tells Christopher about the particular challenges to connecting old residential buildings.

We’ve covered mesh networks before, including those in...

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Posted March 15, 2016 by christopher

When we asked Ted Smith, Chief Innovation Officer of Louisville, Kentucky, to join us for episode 193 of the Community Broadband Bits Bits podcast, we expected to talk about the one touch make ready policy they had enacted (and AT&T has since sued to stop). We did, but we ended with a focus on how networking is already improving the city.

We start off by focusing on the problem of adding new fiber networks to existing poles (many of which are owned by telephone company incumbents that are not particularly inclined to make life easy for new competitors). One touch make ready simplifies the process, resulting in many benefits for communities in addition to lowering the cost to build new networks. We explore that topic to start.

But at the end of the discussion, Ted and I discuss what Susan Crawford has termed a responsive city approach - Louisville is using all kinds of network attached devices to improve city services in some of the lowest income neighborhoods.

Read the transcript from this show here.

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This show is 26 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this Mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Kathleen Martin for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Player vs. Player."

Posted February 8, 2016 by htrostle

Newark, Delaware, prides itself on its small-city status: a bike-friendly place with a great main street and home to 30,000 residents. Some, however, consider poor Internet access Newark's biggest small-city problem.

In December, the City Council decided to move forward with a feasibility study for a municipal broadband network. In a 4-3 vote, the city council hired a consulting firm to investigate the city’s options for connectivity. For $69,000, the firm will answer Newark's questions, and the city will attempt to make an informed decision on the possibility of a municipal network.

Process for a Feasibility Study

As we reported in September, residents have driven the push toward a publicly owned network; the city council took notice and began considering the possibility. In October 2015, They hosted a public meeting to bring together community stakeholders and interested residents. At that point, community leaders heard from a consulting company about what a feasibility study would entail.

Originally priced at $10,000 for a basic analysis, the cost of the feasibility study increased to $69,000 over the next several months because the city council chose to expand the depth of the study. They wanted an extensive analysis of all the options, especially connecting to the local University of Delaware to any proposed municipal network. At the city council meeting in December, members decided to greenlight the feasibility study. The funding will come out of the budget for the Legislative Department’s legal and consulting services.

Why A Municipal Network?

In 2014, the city installed smart electric and water meters which run on a Wi-Fi mesh network. Having greater connectivity could encourage expansion for other uses. High-quality Internet access for businesses and residents, high-speed data transport for local healthcare clinics, parking meters, surveillance, public safety, and cloud computing are only few potential uses for a municipal fiber network. 

With the city’s thriving downtown and strong sense of community, it takes little to imagine the addition of a municipal...

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Posted November 2, 2015 by htrostle

The early 2000s created a boom of both public and private wireless projects throughout the U.S., but many struggled with unrealistic expectations and flopped. Successful muni wireless networks transformed themselves, adapting to the changing needs of the communities. Some, such as Sandy, Oregon, have transitioned to Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) networks where the high-speed fiber-optic cable is hooked up directly to the home. Others repurposed their networks to provide other needed services -- like in Lompoc, California.

Lompoc transformed its $4 million muniwireless network, LompocNet, into a full-fledged Broadband Utility. Originally, the city council hatched the idea of a subscriber-based Wi-Fi network, but times changed quickly. Now, the Broadband Utility primarily provides much-needed internal connectivity for city services.

New Role: City Services

In this small city of about 42,000 people, the Broadband Utility operates a Wide Area Network (WAN) for municipal services. The electric and water utilities use the network for their smart-meters, which automatically provide usage information to the city utilities. Police video cameras transmit their feeds across the service, improving public safety. The Broadband Utility also provides the city’s phone and data services, and and has begun to connect some municipal buildings with fiber-optic cable. The Broadband Utility’s role has increased in importance; Lompoc’s franchise agreement with Comcast expired at the end of 2014, so now the Broadband Utility is beginning to function as an Institutional Network, connecting public buildings.

Lompoc’s approach to broadband may seem inverted to those used to the concept of incremental build-outs, but it worked for the city. In an incremental build-out, a small section of the network is built for a specific purpose and the revenues from that section pay for the next expansion. Lompoc decided to do the opposite: blanket the city completely and immediately with low-cost Internet access via Wi-Fi.

From Being a Flop to Being On Top

More than 10 years ago, in 2002, Lompoc faced a common, but frustrating problem – Comcast’s...

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Posted September 15, 2015 by phineas

The City of Newark, population 30,000 and home to the University of Delaware, is considering commissioning a feasibility study but first will host a workshop to discuss the potential of a municipal network. City leaders want to bring together members of the community, broadband providers, experts, and municipal employees before it commits to the $10,000 study. 

Residents spoke at a recent city council meeting, demanding that the City inquire into the potential for a municipal broadband network, reported Delaware’s News Journal. Community interest led City Information Technology manager Josh Brechbuehl to research the City’s pre-existing Internet infrastructure, as well as speak with a wide array of broadband experts. Brechbuehl delivered a presentation to the city council on July 27 (transcript of the council meeting minutes here), during which he laid out his vision for bringing high-speed Internet to Newark:

Admittedly I started off pretty pessimistic about the opportunity and the possibility of achieving something like this, and I will say that through my research, I’ve become somewhat of a believer, a cautious believer, but definitely a believer that says this should be investigated.

The City currently has access to a wireless mesh network, but Brechbuehl believes fiber would be a better investment in the long term:

“We do have a WiFi network. It is very, very slow and that is by design. It was never designed to handle active devices such as smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, laptop computers...It was designed to carry very, very tiny bits of information a few times a day and that’s it,” he told the council.

Along with the wireless mesh network, used primarily for a smart metering system, the City could tap into pre-existing privately owned fiber networks, Brechbuehl noted in his presentation. Building its own fiber network is another option that would ultimately give the City more flexibility and autonomy going forward. Another option for Newark would be to provide free municipal Wi-Fi in public areas, such as on Main Street and public parks. Brechbuehl and others also have their sights on a potential partnership with the University of Delaware, which...

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Posted April 17, 2015 by lgonzalez

There are probably more mesh Wi-Fi networks operating in the U.S. than most of us realize. They require only one hard-wired connection to the Internet and there are many industrious, tech minded people out there who have the skills to set up this self-healing technology, though they are still working out the kinks.

A mesh network allows devices to engage each other without going through a central point. If I want to use my cell phone to call the cell phone of someone standing 10 feet away from me, the signal may travel thousands of times farther than it would have to because a cell phone company wants to track minutes, collect data, and more. In a mesh network, the two devices would just talk to each other without intermediation. 

A recent Technical.ly article, explores a dozen communities that are using the technology to serve local residents.

The article provides some basic info on these local mesh networks:

We have reported on mesh networks in Poulsbo, Washington, and Ponca City, Oklahoma. An attractive feature for those communities was the ability to expand the network as needed with modest investment. As Technical.ly reports:

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Posted April 3, 2014 by lgonzalez

Ponca City's free Wi-Fi has attracted attention over the years. A recent article in Government Technology focuses on the free Wi-Fi service and reveals the secret behind Ponca City's jewel - their municipal fiber network. 

From the article:

So what makes Ponca City’s wireless network a long-term success, and what suggestions do city officials have for other areas that want to replicate it?

It all starts with fiber, said Technology Services Director Craige Baird and City Manager Craig Stephenson. But fiber’s price tag stops many local governments in their tracks, especially when they want to do it in a year instead of building a network out slowly over a number of years.

As we reported earlier this year, Pona City's wireless is supported and funded by its fiber network. The community began the incremental installation in 1997, adding more each year; the network is now over 350 miles long. Revenue from commercial customers supply the funds for the wireless mesh network.

Residents can use the basic service for free and a modest investment optimizes their access:

While the network can be accessed by wireless-enabled devices throughout the city, residents can install a Wi-Fi modem in their house to receive a stronger signal indoors. The optional modem, called a Pepwave, costs about $150 and comes set up to connect to the free public network. The city got local computer stores to stock and support the devices, and in so doing, helped those businesses.

The service has also had wider reaching benefits:

During the recent recession, the $30 to $70 per month residents had previously paid to commercial Internet service providers stayed in Ponca City, helping “churn the economy,” Stephenson said.

In addition, Stephenson and Baird cited the network as a huge benefit to the schools and career technology center to help train and keep students in the area for economic development. Eighth-graders up through high school have electronic textbooks, laptops or notebooks, said Stephenson, “and that was only possible because everyone inside the city limits has Internet access.”

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