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Municipal Wi-Fi Networks In Trouble 294

Posted by kdawson
from the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time dept.
imamac writes "According to an AP story, municipal Wi-Fi is going nowhere fast. A think tank research director quipped, 'They are the monorails of this decade: the wrong technology, totally overpromised and completely undelivered.' Subscriptions to the services are much lower than expected and lawmakers are concerned that millions of dollars will have gone to waste that could have been better spent on roads or crime-fighting. Satisfaction with the quality of service has also been low, which give some insight into the low adoption rate. Is municipal Wi-Fi just a bad idea, has it been poorly implemented, or is the technology just not there to support such an endeavor?"
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Municipal Wi-Fi Networks In Trouble

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  • by Ice Station Zebra (18124) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:37PM (#19227105) Homepage Journal
    "I'll say anything if you give me money."
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:39PM (#19227149) Journal
    Let me say this, Metropolitan networks, whether Wi-Fi or otherwise need one thing to make them both competitive and financially viable; the metropolitan network needs to be owned by that cooperative body within the municipality's control. That means every last 'last mile' connection.

    When the city/county (whatever) owns all the last mile physical plant/infrastructure and ISP's simply rent connectivity to end users the municipality will be functional and profitable. Yes, that is how we would see big bandwidth to every home, and each home would have the choice of ISP services. It is possible to do this and would instantly flatten the cost of entry as well as the rules of engagement.

    Then, if you ad Wi-Fi support to parts of the city that is subscribed to by users who already pay... well, it's not such a stretch to support financially.

    Does anyone see any downsides to this?
  • The major issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shaman (1148) <shaman@@@kos...net> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:40PM (#19227169) Homepage
    The major issue has been that they have given the contracts to implementors that are paid for the number of radios that they install and by gosh they will install more radios than anyone every imagined. But, see, the 2.4Ghz bands were already polluted BEFORE they started and installing 2.4G radios on every block for several square miles when each mesh radio has a practical range (line of sight) of around 20 miles is really not helping things. And just as bad, the backhaul of the mesh radios is almost always 5.2Ghz or 5.8Ghz, which have only a few channels each to choose from (5.8Ghz has more, but still...)

    Don't believe this could happen? Ask anyone that has tried to use the Toronto mesh network downtown. It's flat ugly.
  • Anecdote (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:40PM (#19227173)

    Subscriptions to the services are much lower than expected and lawmakers are concerned that millions of dollars will have gone to waste that could have been better spent on roads or crime-fighting. Satisfaction with the quality of service has also been low, which give some insight into the low adoption rate. Is municipal Wi-Fi just a bad idea, has it been poorly implemented, or is the technology just not there to support such an endeavor?

    Internet as a utility needs time to develop if it is ever going to be adopted. Take a look at my situation. I pay for a cable modem and not for a municipal wi-fi connection. Why? Well, because I occasionally like to watch television and television service is bundled with internet service. If I buy them separately I'm paying a whole lot of extra cash. What would make me change my mind? Well, if I could rent legal TV episodes over IP for a very, very low price akin to that portion of what it costs to see them on cable TV. Until that time, however, why should I pay extra?

  • by Wonderkid (541329) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:46PM (#19227287) Homepage
    ...if a broadband or near broadband wireless connection is not available everywhere, then it is pointless. People cannot run their lives hoping to find a connection. Far better to put up with a slower but acceptable 3G or equiv connection through the cell/mobile providers where coverage is often assured. I reside in the UK and have a Vodafone 3G connect doo dah connected to my Macbook via USB and it works like a dream, anywhere I go. Even when it slows to GPRS, it is fast enough to surf most websites. I only use WiFi when back home or at the office where I am more likely to waste time watching YouTube videos and downloading stuff. :-) Seriously, my point is valid and when 4G is introduced (Google Samsung 4G trials), that will be it for public WiFi.
  • It's the marketing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by L. VeGas (580015) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:46PM (#19227293) Homepage Journal
    When the internet was taking off, we had great catch-phrases like "Information Superhighway"." Now that's a name I can get behind.

    "Municipal Wi-Fi", in contrast, sounds so lackluster, like "Deparment of Leisure Services". Proponents use lame slogans like "Wi-Fi? Wi-Not?" and "Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not useful."

    We need something that will make folks excited, like "Naked Bimbos Everywhere".
  • Suprised? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by folstaff (853243) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:49PM (#19227351) Journal
    The government nearly always performs at this level: substandard. Why?

    1. Unlike the free market, they only answer to the people every couple of years. The sellers must respond to the buyer every single day.

    2. When government screws up they spend your money to figure out what happened and to come up with a solution. In the free market, you can just change providers.

  • by Agent Smart (204871) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:52PM (#19227397)
    Sure. So the only municipalities that could implement this plan with success are those that have no current last mile connections within their boundaries. No cable co. No big bell.

    The downside is that few municipalities are still free of these existing monopolies, so most could not execute that brilliant plan.

  • by MrCrassic (994046) <deprecated@emaELIOT.il minus poet> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:53PM (#19227417) Journal

    It is not that City-wide Wi-Fi doesn't work or there is no tech powerful enough to run it; it's just poor implementation and, more importantly, poor advertisement.

    For one, rural and suburban municipal Wi-Fi would be a much better implementation because some of these cities are still on the lower-end of personal internet connections (think low-speed DSL...). Running a Wi-Fi network with its network connection coming from an area with a much faster internet connection or a satellite-capable connection could possibly happen...

    Also, I live in a fairly popular city in the United States. I believe we have city-wide Wireless internet, but I have not heard a WORD from our city's government (either that or it was taken down). Plus, another poster mentioned a good point that there is just too much cross-talk; I could be in a cafe with Wi-fi enabled, but it will not be that advantageous with the SEVENTEEN other wireless networks that are in the air...

    I think this is a case where 802.11a might hold a candle. But that's just me, and maybe it's not right either ;-)

  • by mgabrys_sf (951552) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:53PM (#19227425) Journal
    Right - interstate highways suck. I could have built the whole system solo in a week. National Parks - who needs-em. World War II. Give me 100 men with rifles and we could have beaten the Jerrys and the Nips. Nuclear weapons - HA - my own cousin has THREE in his garage next to his GTO.

    Hey swallow some assholes book - he needs the money.
  • Well.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by untaken_name (660789) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:55PM (#19227455) Homepage
    "Is municipal Wi-Fi just a bad idea, has it been poorly implemented, or is the technology just not there to support such an endeavor?"

    Well, based on my experiences with municipal bureaucracies, I'd say yes, yes, and maybe.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @04:56PM (#19227489)
    A lot of these municipal wi-fi efforts have arisen just because the private sector has failed so terribly to bring decent Internet access.

    Hell, scroll down the front page here at Slashdot and you'll see a story posted today about the failure of many ISPs to provide adequate service [slashdot.org]. Of course, we've seen many, many stories like that posted here. I'm sure we've all got our own stories to tell about the trouble we've experienced dealing with various ISPs.

    So every time that somebody comes along and says that the private sector or corporations are the solution to the problem of shitty Internet service in so many areas, I want to laugh right in their fucking faces. Their solution has had a decade-and-a-half to prove itself, and it has failed! It has fucking failed outright!

    Now, a government-backed solution may not be the best. But it's far better than what Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, or most other ISPs are offering. We only need to look to Europe to see how our American communication services should be. Over there, their governments tend to be heavily involved with making sure that a quality service is provided. And it's more than just stringent regulation, too. In the end, we see European consumers getting access to far better mobile phone services, not to mention much, much better Internet access than we usually have here in the States.

    Sometimes the free market fails. That's usually the case with essential services, of which the Internet is quickly becoming one. So the government tends to be the only party who can step in and make a positive difference.
  • by sycomonkey (666153) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:02PM (#19227603) Homepage
    802.11 wasn't designed to be used city-wide. Of course it's expensive and unpopular to try to blanket the town with WiFi, the stations barely enough range to cover a whole house well, much less a whole block. Furthermore, 2.4ghz is way too overcrowded for this sort of thing. Better solutions would be WiMax or a simular tech using the analog TV frequencies when they finally get auctioned off. The idea of Municipal Internet is very good, but this isn't the way to do it.
  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@nOSpam.yahoo.com> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:12PM (#19227753) Journal
    I like being called a socialist. Anarchosocialist, anyways. There is nothing wrong with caring about the important rights: the right to food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Without those rights, all others are meaningless.

    Libertarians want the right to economically enslave others. When all resources are privately owned, all non-owners are defacto slaves, and it is this goal that libertarians work towards: the enslavement of the poor, worldwide.
  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:21PM (#19227927) Journal

    I like being called a socialist. Anarchosocialist, anyways. There is nothing wrong with caring about the important rights: the right to food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Without those rights, all others are meaningless. Libertarians want the right to economically enslave others. When all resources are privately owned, all non-owners are defacto slaves, and it is this goal that libertarians work towards: the enslavement of the poor, worldwide.
    1984 called, it wants its Newspeak back. We have a right to medicine? Suppose all the pharmaceutical companies closed their doors tomorrow. Where would your right to medicine come from then? The only way people can have a right to any good or service is if the government can FORCE somebody else to provide it through taxation. When you are forced to work to support others involuntarily, that is the definition of slavery.
  • by SillyNickName4me (760022) <dotslash@bartsplace.net> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:32PM (#19228095) Homepage
    You should really think about differentiating between "rights" like (life, speech, etc), and consumer products.

    Good call.

    Given that life at least requires food, and according to many, also clothing and shelter. having a right to life implies having a right to those things as well.

    That sets them apart from whatever_you_want

    Hence. maybe you should follow your own advice before starting to sound like a fanatical non-thinker.
  • by Catbeller (118204) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:53PM (#19228517) Homepage
    " Is municipal Wi-Fi just a bad idea, has it been poorly implemented, or is the technology just not there to support such an endeavor?"

    WOAH. False Choice fallacy winner here.

    "A think tank" study, eh? I don't have to look at the name, as I can guess. Lissen up; the "think tanks" are really, REALLY well funded right wing propoganda outlets dressed up as friendly wonks. Who's picking up the tab for this "think tank" study? Would that group have a deep interest in reaming us bloody with corporatized, right-sized monopoly services? Uh-yap. Damned near all of the "think tanks" are deeply married to the very wealthy. Their agenda is the ascendancy of their spouse.

    The muni services have been litigated to death, and those few who managed to survive are throttled for funds by friendly neighborhood lobbyists working the local governments. What few, very few experiments that exist managed to survive by partnering with some corporation like Google, which kinda isn't exactly a municipal wifi network, but yet another granted monopoly.

    Years back I totalled up what Americans have spent on their "free market" net connections. The figure is enormous. I then calculated, on the high side, what it would have cost for the Feds to fiber up every town in the country, Interstate Highway style. I never hear people complain about the highway system, even tho it's cost trillions in adjusted dollars over the last half century and literally rode over local governments. It's not even close. We could have had fiber to the house for a fraction of what we've been screwed for, and for a hell of a lot less than what they are about to screw us for in perpetuity.

    Now, we don't even need the fiber to the home; we could build municipal fiber backbones with wifi nodes and even cat5 connections to the citizens. We could do it for, what, a few tens of billions of dollars? And then it would be done but for the maintenance costs. And we'd not have to spend 25-100 bucks - each - a month for crap service. We'd have gigabit to the home or megabit to the air. If we didn't want to make it a "market" system, we could make it free, anonymous, and as capacious as we liked. We don't do it that way for ideological reasons.

    The "free market" thinktanks want to hold us upside down and shake the change out of our pockets. They aren't anyone's friends but their investor buddies'.
  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:55PM (#19228547) Homepage Journal
    I think that a city thinks people will ask. What I would look at is totally different.
    1. Cost of housing
    2. Work force
    3. Schools
    4. Cheap fiber to my Office.
    5. Traffic
    6. Home Broadband.
    My priories are based on a small development staff and a big support staff.
    Wifi everywhere? Not really on my list.

    I think City managers think that it will attract "high tech" companies. The problem is they don't understand high tech so they guess wrong. Or I could be totally wrong.
    I think paying my staff enough to afford a home and good schools for their kids beats wifi everywhere.

  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@nOSpam.yahoo.com> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @05:59PM (#19228639) Journal
    You support slavery, do you? When all resources are owned, all non owners are slaves. If rights to basic necessities are not guaranteed, I can get you to do anything by denying them to you. You want a world where a small owning class controls all resources and the rest of us all have to do what you say, don't you? That is what libertarianism necessarily leads to.
  • by trianglman (1024223) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:15PM (#19228913) Journal
    This is far from flamebait. When it comes to something that needs to help the public in general, the government can be trusted to do it much better than any corporate entity. Roads, parks and military are three good examples. Just because the government can screw up doesn't mean it always has or always will. Municipal Wi-Fi is a good idea, but it was farmed out, in most cases, to groups that have a lot to lose from it doing well, or to groups that didn't have and weren't given the resources they needed. This is an instance of "Crap in, crap out." not government deficiencies.
  • by davygrvy (868500) <davygrvy@pobox.com> on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @06:58PM (#19229445)
    zappepcs has it right. I am 100% for the success of municipal fiber networks. Financial payback comes from renting access to the service providers, which results in competition for the end user. Slap on some wifi access points on some poles where the fiber trunks are located, and poof, wifi, too. The end user has choices and price per Mb goes way down to Japan/Korea pricing (Why aren't you jealous?). The USA still has the highest $ per Mb of broadband in the world for no good reason except that us silly consumers expect the private sector to solve it.

    Like bridge and road construction, its up to the local communities to solve their "last mile" problem.

  • by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @07:57PM (#19230159) Homepage Journal

    - Only available if signing up ahead of time

    I'm not even sure what point you're trying to get across here.

    If I'm visiting a city with Municipal Wi-Fi, I can't just open my laptop and access it. That was the initial promise of Municipal Wi-Fi -- it should be free for all, and anyone could access it -- not just those who had signed up in advance.
    Then the crusade against child porn and copyrighted entertainment shot down that idea, because there was a "need" to register who did what.
    It wasn't meant to compete with the commercial fixed installation alternatives, but that's what happened. No wonder it's going south.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Spy Hunter (317220) on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:25PM (#19230863) Journal
    But how could yet another WiFi network be the answer? Personally, I don't see how a municipal WiFi network could ever be considered a good idea, for one reason and one reason only: range. You need billions of hotspots and even so you will inevitably have terrible coverage. Not to mention the conflicts with existing networks. Unreliable wireless is hardly better than no wireless at all. OTOH, municipal *WiMAX* makes lots of sense. Let's use technologies for the purposes they were designed.
  • The reason? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22, 2007 @09:33PM (#19230929)
    Let's look at this:

    Find a government employee that you would hire to do a job.

    Find a politician at any level that you would trust to be in charge of ANYTHING.

    Now, let's make it a little more complex by adding millions of dollars, multiply it by several thousand government employees, and let's throw in hundreds of politicians. Let's make it really entertaining by throwing in the left wing news media that is fed by the hands of BIG GOVERNMENT.

    Most of you people have this belief that because the government is throwing money at technology, that it's a GOOD thing. Frankly, I know I don't want the government to "invest" in anything. I want them to provide roads, police, and jails. If I want Wi-Fi, I want a private company to invest their money, and produce a service that is WORTH paying for. In fact, I'd like 2 or 3 companies to come in and COMPETE with services, that way I can buy one that is full-featured, or I can buy one that is cheap. Or I can buy services that fit somewhere in the middle.

    Instead, I'm stuck with a poorly implemented, over-priced, under-performing tax burden that no one wants, yet everyone is forced to use because some politicians thought that they can't have any private competition. I think you'll see the brighter side of DIALUP after a few more years of Municipal Wi-Fi.
     
    I said it years ago. Go look at Municipal Cable. Ask the locals in those areas how they like Muni CableTV, adn I bet you're lucky to leave the room without any serious scars. Municipal services suck. Government projects suck.

     
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @11:10AM (#19237331)
    I use an ethernet cable. Its faster , cheaper , more reliable and impossible to hack from over the air.

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