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Wireless Networking Hardware

Philadelphia Considering Municipal Wi-Fi 223

Posted by Zonk
from the surfing-the-aether dept.
sebFlyte writes "The row over Muni Wi-Fi continues as cities and other municipal authorities consider building massive Wi-Fi networks to give lots of people low-cost wireless net access. CNET is running an article written by the CIO for the city of Philadelphia, explaining why she thinks it's time to break the telcos de-facto monopoly and for public agencies to start offering public services." We have previous covered Taipei's efforts along these lines to create a for-pay service
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Philadelphia Considering Municipal Wi-Fi

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  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:24PM (#11643516) Homepage Journal
    If Philadelphia suceeds you can count on the following:

    People winging about how poor the service is.

    Talkshow hosts berating the government for more give-aways of taxpayer dollars (sponsored by some telco)

    Saturation and further complaints (my taxdollars pay for, won't stand for it, etc)

    Ultimately it'll actually be pretty good service.

    Why is this a good idea anyway? Look at the stranglehold Cable TV has on communities. (oh, sure you can go satellite, but it's still not price competitive because they're pricing to compete with near monopolies) If municipalities insisted cable could be laid under the condition a cable company will sell, at a reasonable price, bandwidth on their cable to competitors, would we be paying such huge prices?

  • Potholes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bsd4me (759597) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:35PM (#11643663)

    I would prefer them to fix all of the potholes first...

  • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:36PM (#11643665) Homepage Journal
    I am OK with municipal utilities, I think it is inappropriate to make it free. If there is a need among the low-income, offer discounts or make it free for them on a need basis. Having your users pay by default would more likely pay for the setup.

    I am no fan of the DSL / cable duopoly, but not giving them or other commercial interests a chance would be a disservice to tax payers due to the potential for waste and stifles competition from viable alternatives.

  • Ramifications (Score:5, Insightful)

    by popo (107611) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:40PM (#11643722) Homepage

    The ramifications of free wi-fi are greater than just web access... The upshot is of course, free telephone service as well.

    This IMHO is where the real problems are going to begin. The telco's aren't just going to lose their internet business over this, they'd lose their businesses.

    Not that we'd be sorry to see them go, but it should be acknowleged that we're talking about more than web browsing here.
  • by morbiuswilters (604447) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:41PM (#11643734)
    How again is satellite not competitive with cable tv? Are you saying that cable tv is so cheap that satellite can't compete against it? If so, it seems that the cable tv monopoly isn't hurting anyone, especially if no one is able to compete effectively. However, around where I live satellite is quite competitive with cable tv and the effect of many subscribers switching to directv or dish network, as well as a series of poorly-implemented digital cable upgrades by mediacom have put the pressure on the cable guys. Seriously, how can you complain if the price is so good that $25 a month satellite (with free installation to boot) can't beat it? Also, I would love to see a wifi isp in my area, but I certainly wouldn't expect everyone else to pay for it and I would also want to avoid the unavoidable political quid pro quo that taking public funds always leads to.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:42PM (#11643755)
    I hope this gets deployed before Mayor Street gets indicted and sentenced.

    I guess this is a "stunt" to try to lure people to Philly and fight the flight-rate that increases every year (especially among 20somethings), to the point where Phoenix is bigger than us. I guess no one considered that having to pay a local wage tax of over 4% has something to do with why people leave...

    Take away the tax and give me a 4% wage increase and I can setup my own private Wi-Fi with plenty of loot to burn!
  • by brian.glanz (849625) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:47PM (#11643808) Homepage Journal

    Like the difference between municipal drinking water fountains and having municipal water in your office or home, cities do not need to offer access of equivalent quality and delivery method free to all users, everywhere. Could there be a less desirable, but workable version of the utility freely available on city streets (like the fountains), with a sweeter and for-pay version of the utility available within businesses and homes? The sweeter version can compete with private entities, while the basic service of lower quality access can be provided for all who cannot afford or are not positioned to use better.

    Access to information is as important to life as water -- my honest opinion, a corollary of sorts to "Give me liberty or give me death."

    BG

  • by O0o0Oblubb!O0o0O (526718) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:47PM (#11643809) Homepage
    Competition is what is supposed to drive the prices down. If the prices are high, that no only indicates that the providers are looking for return of their investments into the infrastructure but it also indicates that there is not enough public demand for the technology itself. If the broad public would demand a cheaper service and actually use it, I am pretty sure it would exist. In Germany, wireless networks became a hype too, but in reality they are not used nearly as much as the providers expected.

    Also, our laws prohibit the public administration to enter markets where already enough private companies compete against each other. After all, the government is not supposed to use tax money to drive private competition out of the market. Tax money may be used to install wireless where private companies see no chance for revenue. On the other hand that would lead to the question of whether there's enough demand at that certain location anyway.

    Additionally, the authorities would face huge network administration duties that normal providers face.

    Last but not least, you could argue that there are privacy concerns if the public offices run a city-wide wireless network (big brother is watching you surf).

    Please correct me if I'm wrong.
  • by kwiqsilver (585008) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:48PM (#11643827)
    Is there any proof of this? Never in the history of the United States has the government done anything "low cost". Compare the true cost of shipping a package FedEx versus USPS.
    It might cost less for the few hundred thousand subscribers who pay for it, but don't forget all the money taken from the people who don't use it, but who still get to pay for it.

    A government granted telco monopoly is a bad thing, but a government run monopoly (amtrak, usps, etc) is worse.
    And just imagine how great that customer service will be. It might reach DMV levels of greatness!
    And I suppose we can trust the government to provide our network access and not snoop in on us.

    Of course, if it does cost too much, has poor service, or impedes on your privacy, you can always switch to the competition...oh wait, they ran the competition under, because "for profit" has become evil.
  • by owlclownish (553387) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:49PM (#11643842)

    The city itself shouldn't be talking about forming a monopoly, supporting a monopoly or operating a utility. Instead the city should be doing what it needs to do to facilitate the creation of city-wide mesh networks by private providers.

    There are several impediments to the creation of city-wide wireless mesh networks. The first, and perhaps most important, is right of way. The second is cost.

    A good model would include the city throwing out an RFP asking for proposals to create a city-wide mesh network that accomplishes the following:

    • Covers at least X% of the city, where X is a large enough percentage to ensure that poor areas of the city are at least partially covered in mesh.
    • Provides at least X mbps throughput to all users
    • Allows independent providers to use the network to provide their own brand of wireless mesh services, for appropriate fees
    In exchange, providers get:
    • The right to borrow money at favorable rates through the use of the city's credit. The city floats bonds, and then loans the money to the chosen provider(s) at the same interest rate as the bonds themselves
    • Streamlined approval of right of way throughout the city, probably using the city's lamposts
    • A temporary monopoly on some types of premium services on the network (i.e. the provider is forced to allow the rebranding of the regular tier of service, but a higher tier of service [twice as fast?] is the sole province of the provider for X years).
    New York City has an interesting plan out there for better cell phone coverage under a similar model: offering right of way on the city's lamposts in exchange for certain guarantees. See New York Times coverage [nytimes.com] on the subject.
  • Two problems: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Wordsmith (183749) on Friday February 11, 2005 @12:56PM (#11643929) Homepage
    Aside from the philosophical discussion on whether this SHOULD be done, I see two implimentation problems:

    1) This is going to cause major interference with pre-existing wi-fi networks. I don't use of want my private network degraded by the ever-present WIFI service set up with repeaters throughout the city.

    2) It's going to be VERY difficult to get people to be smart about use, and avoid giving out key personal information over the airwaves. Identity theieves already collects lots of information in Starbucks and ball fields. Can you imagine how bad the problem would be with access city-wide?
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:01PM (#11643989) Homepage Journal
    I post the same reply nearly every time it comes up. The local governments have no business getting into providing internet service let alone WIRELESS internet service.

    I read what he had to say and I call BULLSHIT. It is the same politically correct crap they use all the time to slip more government programs. The routine is to use words like underserved, monopoly, and eventually "redlining". They claim that cable companies, telcos, and similar don't provide service to those who cannot afford it or will even use it yet at the same time they claim there is a need!

    This is a vote buying scheme with little difference from how senior centers, libraries, and even police precincts are placed.

    Here is what will happen. The contracts will be awarded to those companies who can show they adhere to some contrived quota system of workers. Being in philly this might require union workers, specific health benefits, living wage, or even political affliation. These types of companies are usually nothing more that shells held by friends of the mayor or similar placed people (see Atlanta airport for examples of a big city nepotism).

    The contract gets awarded. It delivers inferior service requiring even more consultation by people who just happen to be friends of the same people who authorized it or screwed it up.

    So eventually it mostly works. We then find out that most of the target people don't have the equipment to use it. So we buy it for them, to include pc and router from "approved companies". We then have to provide training for those who "did not win lifes lottery" of course by those who meet the nepotism requirements.

    Then we stuff the administration of the whole shebang by favorites and such.

    So we will end up with an overpriced solution that is staffed by people who have no business touching a net. We will pay to stuff pcs and equipment in homes where the people really won't get the true benefit.

    I'd rather let a corporation do it, at least they can be held truly accountable. The government will just make your life miserable if you complain or such.
  • by Enry (630) <enry&wayga,net> on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:06PM (#11644033) Journal
    What is your definition of price competitive? Your value of some service may lead you to believe it is overpriced, but someone who values said service differently may feel it is a fair price. These companies are competing, and they sometimes do it on price.

    My town has a contract with Comcast as the sole provider of cable TV. If I go about 100 yards down the road, I'm in the next town which has both Comcast and RCN as a choice. The price for Comcast the next town over about aboutg 2/3 the price of what I'm paying, meaning I'm paying 50% more because there's no competition.

    Is that a fair price?
  • by eln (21727) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:06PM (#11644036) Homepage
    I'm a fairly liberal person, and even I agree with this post. As a socially conscious liberal, I believe the government's primary role is to provide for the public welfare by providing for security through police and military, and by providing a safety net by which there is a standard of living we will not allow our citizens to fall below. This includes things like welfare and Social Security.

    However, having said that, there are limits. The minimum standard of living includes such things as making sure families can buy food and afford reasonable housing, and making sure the elderly won't have to live on cat food after they retire. However, this minimum standard of living should not include luxury items like wireless Internet access. Internet access for the poor is already available through computers at public libraries, there is no reason we should be providing everyone with a WiFi connection. What's next, universal cable TV? Everyone gets a free laptop?
  • by gmcgath (829636) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:07PM (#11644048)
    Nicely put. Lots of people want free stuff paid for by taxing someone else, and don't bother to think ahead to the consequences. Nor will they ask why they're entitled to a free ride at someone else's expense; waving the word "public good" around is a sufficient justification -- after all, those other people are too dumb to realize the benefit they're getting, so they have to be forced to pay for it. With the government as the wireless carrier, the opportunities for governmental censorship and spying are much higher. But with the sweet smell of someone-else-paying waved in their noses, people will cheerfully walk into the socialist pen.
  • by acoustix (123925) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:18PM (#11644203) Homepage
    The last time I checked I could also get Internet access from my cable TV company, independent dial-up providers, independent wireless providers. In fact, in my town of 26,000 we have approximately 10 ISPs that are not telephone companies.

    Makes me wonder what the hell they're doing in Philly if my little town in Iowa has all of these options available and all of the companies are making profits.

    -Nick
  • by DrZombie (817644) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:20PM (#11644237)
    "Rotten businesses go out of business, but rotten government programs just eat more tax money."

    If that were true, your post would hold more water, but since there are plenty of poorly run business out there who are still doing well because of government money going to them instead of to necessary services, your gripes fall apart.

    Sure, Wi-Fi service isn't something necessary, but it's a city project, which is paid for by taxpayers of that city, who have far more control of policy than if it were a federally funded program. If the people don't want it, it won't happen. I personally think it's a good idea. There are plenty of "necessaries" that the government doesn't supply. Power for instance. Face it, people need power to live. You can't just "go without it" if you don't think the pricing is fair. It's not a morning coffee. So instead of dumping money into supporting poor businesses, why not set up a wireless network to allow anyone to use at a substantially reduced fee. It will create jobs in the process to replace those that are lost by the telco, and the city should see a revenue boost from it. Eventually they could put in their own VoIP network and start to turn the city into a business itself, supplementing tax income with service fees at a rate less than the telcos for these services.
  • by kwiqsilver (585008) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:22PM (#11644264)
    The TVA provided "low cost" electricity in that it didn't charge much per kilowatt-hour. Of course if you include the massive tax funded expenses to build the whole thing, it actually was quite expensive, which is why no private company wanted to touch it.
  • by eyeball (17206) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:26PM (#11644324) Journal
    If Philadelphia suceeds you can count on the following:

    # People winging about how poor the service is.
    # Talkshow hosts berating the government for more give-aways of taxpayer dollars (sponsored by some telco)
    # Saturation and further complaints (my taxdollars pay for, won't stand for it, etc)



    And as soon as the first user hits it, conservative groups will complain about government aloowing its citizens to download porn, and take measures to get content they see as objectionable censored.
  • by jericho4.0 (565125) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:45PM (#11644563)
    No one is demanding free wifi as a right. This is an investment by the city, just like roads and education are. It is only being considered for the (possible) increase the local economy.

  • by plague3106 (71849) on Friday February 11, 2005 @01:49PM (#11644639)
    Um, if my taxes are paying for the wifi, how am i getting a luxury for free?

    We could go the opposite route and say roads are a luxury too. I guess you don't think a good communications infrastructure is within the public interest. Compared to other countries, it is pretty bad.
  • by GOD_ALMIGHTY (17678) <curt,johnson&gmail,com> on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:20PM (#11645040) Homepage
    Can you say False Dichotomy, Straw Man?

    Your logic is flawed because it ignores the reasoning given by the CIO in the article. You automatically equate WiFi with a luxury item when the CIO from Philly argued that it was a vital part of their infrastructure needed for development and not available from the private sector currently. Your argument does not even address the points made by the CIO.

    Using the logic you've outlined, we should use private police forces and militaries to ensure laws are enforced. After all, if government provides prosecution and apprehension services, what's to keep people from abusing that?

    If people get their garbage taken out by the city at a subsidized rate, what's to keep people from producing more garbage?

    Not everything works in the Free Market, Infrastructure must be publicly funded. Why do you want to leave Philly citizens' future economic opportunities up to chance? Perhaps they don't and that's why they are using their duly elected government to be self-reliant. If you claim that this is not self-reliance, then your definition of self-reliance is equally applicable to a customer trying to negotiate a better price from a corporation. With your view, such a customer is only self-reliant when he is able to meet any demand levied by the corp, rather than being able to find a better way.

    As far as ROI on tax dollars go, I can guarantee you (and the CIO noted this in the FA) that this will have an ROI higher than the crap incentives that have become a slush fund for telcos. Besides, if an ILEC does manage to provide the service with the same ROI as the city, why wouldn't the city just contract them to do the work. I really don't understand where these neo-Liberal ideologies turned into special rights for corporations and limited rights for democratic institutions. Without our democratic institutions, these corporations wouldn't have a pot to piss in.
  • by prator (71051) on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:24PM (#11645089)
    Why are you comparing cable TV to an internet connection? Cable TV is for entertainment purposes mostly, and it barely services that function.

    An internet connection is used for all sorts of functions including finding news from a multitude of sources, communication, and being able voice your opinion in a public forum such as the one we're on right now.

    -prator
  • by fubar1971 (641721) on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:28PM (#11645125) Homepage
    What's next, universal cable TV? Everyone gets a free laptop?

    If that were to happen, maybe I would switch to becoming a liberal. Can the government get me a grilfriend too?
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday February 11, 2005 @02:53PM (#11645448) Journal
    What would be nice is if this sort of municipal service was combined with some sort of low-end laptop or desktop offer. You know, a couple of hundred bucks for a computer plus a WiFi connection would allow folks in the lowest income brackets a chance to get on the Internet.
  • by indifferent children (842621) on Friday February 11, 2005 @03:15PM (#11645711)
    It's not stealing from the poor to give to the rich if the tax system is 'progressive' and charges the rich a higher percentage.

    This service should be free, because it would be very expensive to charge fees, and require authentication to ensure that only fee-paying customers can use the network. I have seen (sorry, no citation) reports that more than half of the cost of running a long-distance phone company goes toward billing the customers! You have to keep track of who-called-who and when, then you have to collate and print bills, send them out, track payment (and non-payment), etc. Perhaps that is the reason for the popularity of the new all-you-can-eat plans (like mine from Verizon).

    Wifi is a service that is difficult to bill for, and more difficult to use if authentication and billing are required. Treat the service like streetlights.

  • by Sheepdot (211478) on Friday February 11, 2005 @03:32PM (#11645942) Journal
    Well, there are some other services the government has provided for so long that people simply do not question it anymore. Public roads, fire departments, and 911.

    The reality is that other long-standing government services have been replaced or started to be replaced by commercial, like postal services and parks. Even FedEx now handles a good portion of the USPS.

    What the government *really* needs to get out of is some of the restrictive FCC and zoning regulations. A good reason why cable companies have monopolies is their ABUSE of the government to prevent any possible competition from arrising.

    While blame can be placed on the corporations for doing this, it doesn't help that we, as citizens, have provided a framework for these corporations to do so by asking the government to regulate that which should be left up to the free market.

    A great deal of fear that anyone can do anything ends up resulting in less options over the long term.
  • by deaddrunk (443038) on Friday February 11, 2005 @04:56PM (#11646987)
    Britain is the most privatised of countries in Europe and yet somehow manages to have far worse public services than those evil government monopolies in the rest of the EU.
    Something to do with putting profit before customers. It's not just government monopolies that are shitty and at least you can vote out the minister for telecoms/electricity/water, you can't remove anybody from the board of a largely unaccountable private monopoly unless you happen to have a majority shareholding (i.e. not Joe Public).

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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