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Wireless Networking Communications The Internet Hardware

Why Municipal Wi-Fi Networks have Been Such a Flop 236

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the on-the-town dept.
Jake Melville from Slate shot us a link to one of their stories that outlines why municipal wi-fi failed but also tells of the too-rare success stories. While cities that left their wi-fi in the hands of the private sector fell prey to the "last-mile" problem, grassroots efforts such as that in St. Cloud, FL, have blossomed.
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Why Municipal Wi-Fi Networks have Been Such a Flop

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  • Long story short: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Friday September 28, 2007 @05:48AM (#20779955)
    It's a selling problem.

    As a politician, you can't 'sell' citywide internet access as easily as you can public transport, sewer system or power. It's not one of those "must have" things, it's one of those "why should I have to pay for it" things.

    It's easy to get other municipal expenses explained. Citywide public transport? Ok, you may have a car so you might not need it, but if everyone did, you'd be in jams longer. Gas? Duh. Power? Duh! Sewer system? DUH!

    Internet? Huh? Interhet? Hell what do I need that for, eh? If someone wanna use it, they gotta pay it, 'k, not on my tax money!

    Should we reach the point where internet access becomes so much a part of everyday life as tapwater and power in your apartment, we can talk about it. Before that, no politician would survive it, politically, to suggest blowing tax money into internet.

    It could work akin to public transport, where you pay a (nominal) monthly fee, but then, in how many cities could that work? I mean, it would certainly work around here, where you still pay 50+ for 1024/256, but how about areas where companies already offer 4mbit+ for less than 30?
    • Re:Long story short: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bios_Hakr (68586) <xpticalNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday September 28, 2007 @06:02AM (#20780001) Homepage
      I live in a gated community that opted for wireless over DSL/FiOS. I think it's been a failure because it downright sucks.

      For starters, you need WAPs everywhere. At least one every 100' if you are using the smaller (12" omni) antennas. Even then, trees and rain cause severe signal loss.

      Second, you need to arrange your house based on where you can get a signal. My WAP is invisible from downstairs. I have to put the PC in an upstairs bedroom. And it's not the master bedroom. Once the kids go to bed, no more PC time for adults.

      I work in networking, so I was able to get a Linksys with DD-WRT and route that through the house. Less technical neighbors are SOL.

      Finally, once the city starts doing the networking, competition will leave. Soon, committees will suggest getting filtering software. After all, public money can't subsidize smut. Or religion. Or hate speech. Pretty soon, the only unblocked sites will be Disney.com. What will the power users to then?

      Overall, our solution works okay. I make a lot of money on the side installing boosters and antennas and routers. I also get calls constantly when the signals drop. During heavy rain, I just turn my phone off. Try explaining propagation fade to Sally Soccermom...
      • by evilandi (2800) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Friday September 28, 2007 @06:44AM (#20780173) Homepage
        My WAP is invisible from downstairs.

        Um... get a WiFi Repeater [wi-fiplanet.com]?

        My access point is in an upstairs bedrom. If I want direct line of sight from my shed, no signal, an old brick washhouse is in the way. So I got a thirty-quid repeater (actually just a regular access point switched into "repeater" mode) and installed that on the corner of the washhouse (in view of both the bedroom AND the shed). Now 100% signal in the shed.

        There really isn't any magic to installing a WiFi repeater. Plug in to your PC, configure over a web browser with the SSID and encryption key, disconnect from your PC, plonk it somewhere where it can see both you and an original access point. Job done.

        If I can figure this out in my 100-year-old farmworkers' cottage in rural England, I'm sure as hell you can figure it out in a modern US city gated community. It really, really isn't hard.
        • by Colin Smith (2679)
          You know that different antenna shapes broadcast to different areas? The standard monopole/whip shaped antenna on most access points produces a sort of flat, pancake shaped signal. Directly above it is probably a relatively slow signal area.

          Also, the signals bounce off of metal sheets just like a mirror.

           
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bios_Hakr (68586)
          Well, we already pay $50 per month for wireless access. I just happened to have a WRT-54g laying around. For me, it isn't a problem.

          But to tell most people that they need to purchase additional equipment; they balk at that.

          Also, the provider advised that too many repeaters would just degrade the already-weak signal. I have no idea if that's true or not.
          • by Torvaun (1040898)
            If you're planning on daisy chaining repeaters, and putting them all on the ragged edge of connection for the previous repeater, then yes, you will end up getting all manner of signal loss. If you're making Wi-Fi hop upstairs, then you don't need to worry about it. If you want, you can also just run cable like you would if they did DSL/FiOS.
          • But to tell most people that they need to purchase additional equipment; they balk at that.

            People always do that. For example, a cable company advertises service for $50 a month, then tells you that you will need to spend $60 (once) for a cable modem. Or a satellite company offers TV service for $50 per month, but requires you to spend $150 or more for the satellite equipment. Of course you will need certain equipment. for example, you can't use cable or satellite unless you have a TV, and you can't use the internet unless you have a computer.

            Personally, I prefer to buy my own equipment t

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        >> Second, you need to arrange your house based on where you can get a signal. My WAP is invisible from downstairs. I have to put the PC in an upstairs bedroom. And it's not the master bedroom. Once the kids go to bed, no more PC time for adults.

        >>I work in networking, so I was able to get a Linksys with DD-WRT and route that through the house. Less technical neighbors are SOL.

        Why the contradictory statements? Either you got it to work or you didn't. And since when was DD-WRT a requirement to ru
    • by teh kurisu (701097) on Friday September 28, 2007 @06:18AM (#20780069) Homepage

      Should we reach the point where internet access becomes so much a part of everyday life as tapwater and power in your apartment, we can talk about it.

      Was home electricity really a 'part of everyday life' before electricity generation and distribution received any substantial government investment?

      • by maxume (22995) on Friday September 28, 2007 @06:48AM (#20780193)
        Private internet providers *have* received significant amounts of government funding.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by teh kurisu (701097)

          I know that. Even not counting any expenditure on the backbone, the vast majority of broadband connections in the UK are ADSL, which uses the phone network installed by the nationalised Post Office Telecommunications.

          The point I was trying to make was that, given the GPP's criteria - that a utility has to become 'everyday' before it should receive government funding - we would have no electricity in our houses.

    • Actually, TFA points out that the biggest issue seems to be that the politicians involved are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to be the leaders of a vast new public works project, but they don't actually want to fund those projects. So instead of putting together a comprehensive plan for creating and maintaining the wireless network, they just offer a particular private company a set fee to do it for them. Without a strong sense of oversight or purpose, the private company's projects
    • by porkThreeWays (895269) on Friday September 28, 2007 @08:24AM (#20780661)
      I work for a municipality and frankly, municipal wifi is #102,448 on our list of priorities. Why? It's SUPER expensive with very little benefit. My city has a population of almost 200,000. To cover a city of our size we'd literally need hundreds of access points @ a cost of millions of dollars. We are a technical staff of only about 10. Can you imagine 10 people being tasked with trying to maintain hundreds of access points? When you've got hundreds of anything electronic out in the field, a certain percentage is always going to be broken. So you've got this project that needs constant maintenance that's extremely expensive and resource intensive. If we're reaaaally lucky we may get 200 people using it on a regular basis. We're talking about a project of millions to benefit 200 people that probably already have internet access anyway.

      I don't know about you, but I'd much rather spend those millions to benefit a school and get educational software into Florida's failing schools. Or hell, open an entire new school so kids don't have to wake up an hour earlier to be bussed half way across the city. There are just so many way this money could be used better. That's why municipal wifi doesn't take off.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mini me (132455)
        If you had municipal wifi in place you could use the network to enable the kids to learn without the need for expensive classrooms. The desire to maintain the status quo instead of looking forward to where we could be in the future is what is holding back municipal wifi.
      • by hughk (248126)
        Yes, city-wide is a bit rich in many senses. The US has a lot of places with low urban density compared with say, Europe. However coverage of some public spaces may help your own staff as well as the public. I can think of many places where a couple of nodes can cover a public space, encouraging people to be out.
    • by uncledrax (112438)
      >As a politician, you can't 'sell' citywide internet access as easily as you can public transport, sewer system or
      >power. It's not one of those "must have" things, it's one of those "why should I have to pay for it" things.

      Errr...

      As a politician it's harder to sell WiFi because there are many companies that already provide that service, and the infrastructure costs are not as high as something like Sewer/Water/Elec/Cable TV/Telephone.

      Also.. they were looking at doing WiFi here.. the biggest problem? w
    • I can say that both technically and politically St. Cloud went about it the right way. The government did not sell it as an access for everyone network. They sold it as a business sector network that would encourage businesses to look at St. Cloud as a home base. For those of you not familiar with Central Florida there are a lot of outlying cities around Orlando like St. Cloud, each of these cities are trying to become the next small business sector in much the way that Winter Park did. St. Cloud positione
  • No money = no wifi (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gihan_ripper (785510) on Friday September 28, 2007 @05:54AM (#20779975) Homepage

    It's a no-brainer to see why municipal wi-fi wouldn't work without significant investment. I'd guess we're talking about millions of dollars even for smallish towns. And yes, the last mile (or even the last few feet) can be a real problem.

    I was recently at a conference in Göttingen (Germany). My hotel room had wifi (that I paid for). Still the connection was intermittent and had tiny bandwidth, even though the router was in the hall outside. One morning, I had to start an x-terminal session to a computer at my home university to run Mathematica. The connection was so slow that I just gave up and went to use the local campus machines.

    It would be nice to have free wifi, and maybe this could work as a low quality service for those who can't afford anything better, but for the moment, I can only see this happening through increased taxation, and probably only in the richer neighbourhoods.

    I'd say the reality for communal wifi is that it could work on a much smaller scale to begin with. Maybe a street could pool together some money to pay for local wifi and lock it in with WPA passphrases. We might eventually see a network of these streets, building Municipal wifi one block at a time.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Krisbee (644227)
      If you meant using the X11 protocol over the public internet, you lose in most cases because of the X11 protocol design.

      X11 requires good bandwidth and low latency.
      If you were in Germany and assuming your university is in the U.S., the sheer latency kills X11 protocol regardless of the bandwidth.

      Sun Ray, VNC, ICA(Citrix) and Remote Desktop protocols works over these links. Try one out.
      • Thanks very much Krisbee! I didn't realise (didn't think) there was a faster option. I've now downloaded nxclient, which is so very much faster than X11.
  • No matter how large they are they are not on the same scale as Philly or SanFran. St. Cloud covers only the 15 square miles of the city. It is on a different scale than what the other two cities proposed, let alone the fact that the archietecture of the buildings is significantly different.

    College campuses can also easily curtain competition with their wi-fi where as pointed out in the article competition already exists, let alone good service, or existing offerings in major cities.

    I would love a wi-fi st
    • by vtcodger (957785)
      ***I am still waiting for the day when the only "cable" coming into my house is for electricity, even that I would love to get rid of if zoning would permit solar panels.***

      The zoning thing will eventually resolve itself for most people. But I am curious about where you plan to store maybe 100KwHr of electricity as a reserve against a week of cloudy weather.

  • one word - cost.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eniac42 (1144799)
    Whenever I have seen the costs for these sort of schemes, I wonder whether the town/council are getting value for money. I think the best way is for local government to encourage local places that have net access anyway to provide a free service, in return for support, equipment or some small subsidy, rather than the over ambitious million-dollar schemes some places try for - I doubt they get the subscriptions back to pay for it all. If that works out to be popular, then expand it..
    • Re:one word - cost.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ChetOS.net (936869) on Friday September 28, 2007 @07:46AM (#20780423) Homepage
      I live in St. Cloud, FL. City managers tell us that our taxes are essentially $300/year lower because they provide Internet access (estimated that we would normally pay $25/month to an ISP).

      However, I only know of one person who can actually get the service in his home. The WAPs are too spread out to get coverage unless you are outside. Or unless your are downtown, they have them concentrated there.

      I cannot get the WiFi from my home, so I still have to pay for my own Internet access.

      So, not only am I not saving those $300, I am actually spending an additional $300.

      If a city is going to charge everyone in the city for a service, they better provide it to everyone in that city. Kinda like garbage service... I don't see anyone in the city not getting their garbage picked up.

      I was cool with it when they only provided it downtown (the pilot program). It was sort of an economic boost for the businesses there, but it was a waste of money to deploy it for the entire city.
      • Why not do this:
        • Provide WAPs to anyone who is outside the coverage area, with a set of firewall rules which will only route data from anyone on the wireless network to the Internet, and allow the user to reserve some portion of the bandwidth for the wired LAN and wireless users on a VPN. Optionally route municipal WiFi traffic via a VPN so that people can keep the same IP when they hop between WAPs on different Internet IPs, but let them connect directly if they don't want this kind of tracking, at the e
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 28, 2007 @06:07AM (#20780029)
    I think the size of the cities also has an effect. For example here in Oulu, Finland, the panoulu [panoulu.net] network works extremely well and covers most of the city center and all of the university. On the other hand there are only around 125000 citizens. But maybe something to take a look at, many of the people behind panoulu are constantly zooming around the world at various conferences.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Warod (1136593)
      Yes, PanOULU is awesome part of the public services of the city. There are over 850 PanOULU hotspots out there and counting. That's one hotspot for each ~150 people living here. Oulu is and always have been very technology oriented city. Internet access is generally better than most of the country, symmetric 10/10 mbit access for only ~50 /mo (for students even less). 100/10 mbit is about the same if you have fibre to the house and CAT5 cabling inside the house.

      There is no real competition between PanOULU n
  • by Melllvar (911158) on Friday September 28, 2007 @06:13AM (#20780053)

    Is coming along with nary a hitch, as far as I can tell. They started late last year, have a good chunk of the city up and running under it already, and should be done with the whole project by the end of the year. I don't have any real-world experience with it (I live in St. Paul), but I haven't heard anything but good about it, so far.

    Seriously, the city is making setting up wifi look about as difficult as slapping together legos; I can't figure out how these other cities have managed to screw it up so badly.

    And the St. Paul city government just voted to go with a fiber optic rollout for their municipal broadband. Of course, no word on where the $200+ million is going to come from to pay for it, so it's really just vaporware at the moment.

    But God knows there's enough fiber laid down out there up to the curb. It's been almost ten years since they buried those suckers; might as well light plug 'em in and see how well they light up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      A lot of people around here seem to think that city-wide wireless is going to be free. In Minneapolis, there is a fee-- $19.95/mo residential, $29.95/mo for business. [minneapolis.mn.us]

      The wi-fi has already had unforseen benefits as the new wi-fi was used during the rescue effort [computerworld.com] after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mister Whirly (964219)
        That is because Minneapolis is smart, and are NOT trying to be an ISP. They took bids from outside companies to provide the hardware and tech support, and provided them with the places to put all the hardware. And at $29.95 /month for 6MB download speed, they are going to give Comcast and Qwest a run for their money. Will be interesting to see if cable and DSL will drop their prices to try and compete. I just wish Verizon would bring FIOS here...
    • by cwgmpls (853876) on Friday September 28, 2007 @03:11PM (#20786355) Journal

      I agree the Minneapolis roll out seems to be going very well. I live in Minneapolis and here is why I think it is working:

      - They chose a smaller company (USInternet) to do the build. This means the company is committed to customer service and building their reputation, rather than just extending their monopoly like the big telecos would have tried to do.
      - The City of Minneapolis set itself up as the biggest customer of the network, to provide network access for public services throughout the city. That way, USInternet has a guarenteed customer base that is large enough to make the network work, even if few other people sign on. At the same time, Minneapolis gets a wireless network that is cheaper to lease from USInternet than it would be for Minneapolis to build it themselves internally.
      - The service is not free, but still half of what existing ISPs are charging. This gives USInternet a growing source of revenue as the network grows.
      - US Internet is building a network in a modular fashion, which makes it easy for them to move things around and upgrade parts, even mix in WiMax in the future, as the needs change.

      So good technology, sound financial planning, and finding the right company seem to be what is making the Minneapolis network happen.

  • While done on a much smaller scale than say San Francisco or New York, Fredericton, New Brunswick (pop. approx. 50,000 people) boasts a nearly ubiquitous WiFi network that blankets the city called Fred-eZone (http://www.fred-ezone.com/). The eZone is free for everyone and is maintained through tax dollars. Now I understand a lot of the constraints in the smaller towns and cities in the United States, especially the remote ones, however anyone who has ever been to New Brunswick will tell you it it probably o
  • Wrong Approach (Score:2, Interesting)

    The fact is they are trying to give away for free what most people don't really care to pay for yet. There's still a general perception that wireless is not a robust and reliable system. Aside from that the people who are able to take advantage of a municipal internet system are usually the sane ones that can afford a more reliable wired connection anyway. The private sector will be investing in their own open wireless systems to give access to people working in the downtown areas. It just makes more se
  • by rucs_hack (784150) on Friday September 28, 2007 @07:07AM (#20780275)
    the only reason municipal wifi fails is that there are too many companies desperate to get rich from providing internet access, and not at all keen on the concept of access for all unless the aforementioned 'all' pay many doller.

    In the pacific there have been free wireless access rollouts that are problem free. I mean shit, if an Island can manage it, so can a city ffs.

    My suspicion is that the march of technology is hampered by the greed of individuals.
    • by DavidShor (928926) *
      "My suspicion is that the march of technology is hampered by the greed of individuals."

      I harbor the opposite suspicion: The march of technology is almost solely reliant on greed.

  • It's obvious... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mysticalfruit (533341) on Friday September 28, 2007 @07:20AM (#20780325) Journal
    At first blush it sounds like a really great idea. Get a couple DSL lines, hook them to AP's, turn off all the security so everybody can access it and your golden.

    However, once people realize the current limitations of AP's and how much infrastructure behind the whole thing that needs to be put into place and how much it's going to cost to put that infrastructure in place, they run screaming from the project.

    Here's what a town should do...

    1. Don't try to put wifi everywhere, instead focus on places like downtown. Realize that your going to have to put *some* infrastructure in, but encourage businesses to install AP's through tax incentives. Come to understand that places that you going to have to put wifi is going to be expensive because the cost of the gear (outdoor AP's are expensive)
    2. For everywhere else, subsidize it. Hire someone who knows what their doing and come up with an equipment list that a household would need to become part of the wifi network. (my thinking is that it would be a specific router with a specific config). Then send mail to your local citizens offering a tax credit to anybody who installs an access point. Heck you could even purchase them in some ridiculous quanitity that you could resell to make a profit.

    Note, the only thing I haven't addressed in this scenario is technical support and the fact that many telecom companies have issues with them using their service to give service to others. Though I suppose as long as your not making a profit, they really can't say much.

    Just my idea.
    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *
      Mysticalfruit, it's a great idea.

      The only problem is, then how are the municipal politicians going to get those fat campaign contributions from the telecoms?

      That's the real problem with Muni WiFi: the companies don't like it, and we all work for the companies.
    • by hughk (248126)
      I absolutely agree with down-town/public-areas. Remember that you can have a sign-on page which could feature some (very) local ads. It may not be much, but if it help finance the infrastructure, then fine.
  • I tried the Santa Monica one and it sucks too much even for email checking. Its painfully slow and unreliable (at least it was a few months ago, my apologies to Santa Monica if they improved it since). If its worth the trouble and money to put it up, surely its worth a little bit more to make it good?
    • by vtcodger (957785)
      ***I tried the Santa Monica one and it sucks too much even for email checking.***

      That's interesting. I lived many years in the area, and I't think that Santa Monica would be a near perfect candidate for municipal wi-fi. Densly populated by US standards -- around 10,000 people per square mile. Mostly flat, very few natural coverage holes except along the beach front. Highly educated, high income.

      If municipal wi-fi doesn't work well there, it's probably going to have the same problems or worse in othe

  • Oooh, oooh, I know! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jollyreaper (513215)
    Is it because corporations lobby against it because it chips away at their obscene profits?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    free wifi in the city up to 512 - also free bicycle rental up to 4 hours - I can't comment for everyone but this is the sort of service that appeals to me.

    http://www.freepress.net/news/25957 [freepress.net]
  • by gweihir (88907) on Friday September 28, 2007 @07:46AM (#20780421)
    Infrastructure that works well, cannot be duild by private companies. It requires an investor that has very long-term goals. That would, in this case, be the city. It will still be there in decades and it cannot just vanish into bankrupcy because of faulty planning. So it has a real interest in getting it right. Of course it cost money. Of course it takes time. But this is one arena where the great "private investors will do it" myth of the US fails, and badly.

    Why do you think there are no collapsing bridges or ditches in Europe? Not because people there are smarter, but because the idea of planning for decades ahead has been learned by countless desasters in the past. The US settlers could have taken that lesson with them. Instead my impression is that infrastrucure is build on a level that suggests people do not really plan to stay long in one place.
    • by homer_s (799572)
      it cannot just vanish into bankrupcy because of faulty planning

      What does that mean? Does it mean that the city always plans right or does it mean that no matter how faulty the city's planning, it will not go into bankruptcy?

      A bankruptcy or a loss is a sign from the market (i.e., the people who buy the product or service) that your product is not needed, is expensive or that it is inefficient. That could be because of faulty planning, poor execution, low investment, malinvestment, bad luck, bad marketi
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by YrWrstNtmr (564987)
      Why do you think there are no collapsing bridges or ditches in Europe?

      No collapsing bridges in Europe?
      Really? [wikipedia.org]
      Portugal, 2001
      Moscow, 2000
      Spain, 2005
      Germany, 1998 (train derail, overpass collapses)
      etc, etc.
    • I'm still trying to understand what exactly the problem is.

      The Slate article seems to imply that widespread broadband isn't happening. But it is-- coverage is growing at a nice clip and while we do have the problem of only at best two major players in each market (telephone and cable providers) this is a young industry and that's to be expected. I'm trying to understand exactly what the Slate guy is asking for from a customer experience perspective. From the article:

      To recover costs, the private "partner" h

    • by mcwop (31034)
      I do not even know where to begin with your inane comment. Come to Baltimore where you will see a city run into the ground by countless government failures. Private developers have been the one bright spot rehabilitating much of the city.
      • And the Hoover Dam was built by GE???
        What are you talking about?
        NASA, USPS, Hoover Dam and lots of governmental successes exist.
        Private developers are selfish hogs who would think of nothing but to rip you off $25 for a 56 Kbps line.
        Government atleast is elected and the sheriff and local country knows that if they screw up a major road-laying or bridge laying, they can say goodbye to their golf clubs.
        Yes larger projects like FAA get screwed up, but middle and smaller ones succeed where private would not eve
        • by mcwop (31034)
          The Hoover Dam was built by Six Companies [wikipedia.org] all of which were private. Go figure. By the way, government tells me to F off more than any private company I deal with.
    • by sheldon (2322)
      Wi-Fi infrastructure isn't something you can build long-term. The specifications change about every 3 years still. So we did have b, now we're up to g, and n is pretty damn close to being final.

      I generally got the impression that the reason why municipal wi-fi doesn't work is largely because it's a solution in search of a problem. When we really know what problem we're trying to solve, then we can put something in place.
    • by Abcd1234 (188840)
      You know, your post was fine until I hit the second paragraph, when you started in on some baseless claims about European superiority. I mean, are you seriously trying to tell me that the governments of Europe are solely responsible for building all infrastructure? That they never contract out to private firms to get the work done? I *highly* doubt that...
  • WiFi security (Score:4, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Friday September 28, 2007 @08:03AM (#20780513)
    Would you give up your current home or work connection completely and use the muni WiFi for all your needs? Banking, paying bills, etc. Knowing the security issues of WIFi? I don't think I would.
    So if I'm going to pay for a personal access anyway, tell me why should I be thrilled at paying into the cities 'free' WiFi scheme?
    • Re:WiFi security (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wurp (51446) on Friday September 28, 2007 @11:33AM (#20782829) Homepage
      First, banking & paying bills are done over SSL, which is built *expecting* there to be man in the middle attacks, and it is not vulnerable to such. In other words, that's secure, whether going over wifi or whatever.

      For other stuff, VPNs/ssl tunnels/whatever are fairly easy to put together, and I agree someone should do that so your browsing isn't transparent to anyone within 100 meters of you.
  • The neighboring city has a public utility that does power, cable TV, and cable modem internet. They have been placing wireless access points all over the place for the last several years, mostly on street lights in the downtown area. If you have a laptop out at a cafe downtown you are almost guaranteed internet service.

    It's not city-wide by any means, but it's where it's needed.
  • by jav1231 (539129) on Friday September 28, 2007 @08:16AM (#20780607)
    This article makes a simplistic argument but leaves out one other key reason: lawsuits. The big communication companies didn't just have an infrastructure in place for providing bandwidth, they had a litany of lawyers that often descended upon the municipality to attempt block them from providing these services.
  • I spent a lot of time and effort trying to get Internet access through WiFi when I didn't have DSL or cable coverage.WiFi didn't solve the "last mile problem" for the simple reason that it doesn't go a mile under real-world circumstances. Not even half a mile. In the real world, you're lucky if a single AP can be seen from a few potential users up and down the street. And neither the hardware nor the software or band allocations were meant for anything else.
  • by BillEGoat (50068) on Friday September 28, 2007 @08:53AM (#20780879) Homepage
    Muni WiFi shoud fail for the sake of free speech. It's always boggled my mind to see the amount of support on /. for muni WiFi. With the general (and healthy) distrust of government in this forum, why should we desire to ask a government to own and operate a primary channel of the public's communication? Do you really want mayors and governors loyal to the Bush administration to have significant say in who has access to look inside your internet connection?
    • Do you really want mayors and governors loyal to the Bush administration to have significant say in who has access to look inside your internet connection?

      You're right. It's much safer to have your Internet connection controlled by an amoral multinational corporation. You realize, of course, that the telecoms are lobbying to have themselves granted immunity [msn.com] for illegal wiretaps they facilitated on behalf of the Bush administration?

      Mayors and governors, in a functioning democracy at least, are accountable to
  • by superdude72 (322167) on Friday September 28, 2007 @08:58AM (#20780917)
    As a San Francisco resident and Earthlink subscriber, I'm delighted the Wifi proposal flopped. First, as an Earthlink subscriber I knew they wouldn't deliver. Second, it was just another of these public/private partnerships that have been all the rage for the past 30 years or so, and which almost invariable promise the moon and the stars on a shoestring budget and then vanishes from everyone's consciousness. Building a public wifi network is really not that ambitious an undertaking. The Earthlink proposal was to cost how much? $20 million? That's a pittance for the city of San Francisco, which has an annual budget of more than a billion dollars. And that's to build the network, not for annual maintenance, which presumably would cost much less. It was absolutely pitiful that Gavin Newsom gave away such an important piece of infrastructure to a private company for such a puny sum. And it's because he's the sort of New Democrat that emerged in the '90s, beholden to corporate interests and afraid to be associated with anything that might smack of the Old Democrats--ie, the New Deal and the Great Society Democrats. Well, I wish he'd lose that fear. The New Deal produced the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. At the height of the Great Depression. Not bad, hm? If we'd had New Democrats running things back then, we'd probably all still be paying dearly to commute on private ferry services, because God forbid government try to do anything to make peoples' lives better when there is potential for private companies to make a profit.

    Municipal wifi is so cheap that there really is no reason we couldn't do that *and* build a fiber-optic network; I mean, it's an order of magnitude cheaper so why not do both. Fast networks are already crucial infrastructure, and will be even more so, particularly in a city that considers itself a capital of high tech. Private industry isn't going to get it done. So just step up and *lead* already. I can't believe I live in a rich, densely populated, supposed high-tech capital and the best broadband I can get for less than $100 a month is this shitty 1.5Mbps/384Kbps DSL!
    • PS,
      Despite admitting alcohol abuse and an affair with a subordinate, Gavin Newsom is a shoe-in to win the next election. He doesn't really need to suck up to the corporate money. I think it's just instinctive for him to do so.
  • The troubles will begin once WiFi is actually deployed.

    What you'll find then is that the general population is bunch of selfish, bandwidth-hogging pigs. Everybody and his dog will be using it for P2P file copying.

  • by zerofoo (262795) on Friday September 28, 2007 @09:11AM (#20781027)
    802.11 networks were never designed for large area deployments. Wi-Fi was designed to be used in short range applications - a nice convenience that augments the functionality of a wired LAN.

    I've done a few medium-size wireless deployments and the core problem with 802.11 is that you need to drag a wire to each access-point....and in a city, you need a lot of access-points. Management of these huge networks is a solvable problem (Meru and Cisco have done a pretty good job with that).

    Sure there are mesh-network technologies like Ricochet (remember them?), and WiMax is around the corner - these technologies are actually designed to cover very large areas to minimize the amount of access-points and cable runs. These technologies might be more promising.

    In the end, municipalities need to fork over the cash, and implement the correct technology to make this succeed. Without cash and good decisions, these wi-fi projects are doomed.

    -ted
    • by MtViewGuy (197597)
      You are absolutely correct.

      The biggest problem with Wi-Fi is that you need way too many transceivers to make it work on a municipal scale, and that adds up to costly problem of the the excess complexity of controlling and maintaining a large number of transceiver spots.

      WiMAX--which is about to go to large-scale applications within the next 18 months--needs only a few transceiver towers to cover an entire city. That right there saves a lot of money since you only need to maintain and control a few transceive
    • TFA tries to dismiss the technical shortcomings of 802.11b/g, but I agree it's a huge part of the problem.

      Some observers blame these failures on Wi-Fi's technical limits. Wi-Fi does have serious limitations, but wireless Internet technology has worked well even on large college campuses.

      College campuses have it much easier for lots of reasons: existing campus LAN, existing campus IT, dense population, probably not 100% coverage (how many campuses have wifi in open spaces like parking lots and sports fields?

  • by gordona (121157) on Friday September 28, 2007 @09:30AM (#20781227) Homepage
    Some neighbors and I started a wireless coop about 5-6 years ago in the mountains west of Boulder CO (http://www.mric.coop). We have about 500 subscribers at $50/month and cover an area of several hundred square miles. While there are some commercial WISPs in the area, it is difficult to see how they have a viable business plan. We have a very limited number of paid employees and most of the work is done by volunteers. The mountainous terrain with lots of trees makes it impossible to have 100% coverage. Additionally, we are finding out that 802.11b, while a good way to get started, relatively cheaply, has severe limitations, causing poor performance for a number of subscribers. We are considering changing at least part of our infrastructure to Motorola Canopy gear. In order to get coverage, we have several T-1 lines at different locations interconnected to each other and other APs by a wireless backhaul. Of course the problem with 802.11b is that while there are 11 channels (in the US) to use, only 3 are non-overlapping. Even using vertical and horizontal polarities for distribution, interference is still a big problem. So far we have been able to work out cooperation agreements with the commercial wisps so that we don't interfere with each other, since such activity would have nasty consequences for everyone. We were able to pay off our initial investment of $30-40K, in about 3 years and are debt free with a positive cash flow.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by RendonWI (958388)
      I have had experience with the motorola canopy gear. And IMHO all I can say is "stay away." The boxes require frequent resets, the radios fail far too often, and they are quite temperature sensitive. They do fine once it is cold, or warm or hot.. but when the temp is changing they go haywire. Wish I could offer you a different product, but we have not found a replacement for these units yet.
  • It was presented to the public as if it were any normal internet connection. We expected lots of ads. But what really fried me was that the same company who did the installation piggybacked a for-pay service on the free one subsidized by the city. The city council is a bunch of morons. They may have well just given millions$ to this company.

    I tried using the free Metro service. It was hard to connect and attachments could be no more than 1mb. And I live very close an access point.

    Ed

    Porland, OR
  • 28 square miles of municipal wireless internet access [lawrencefreenet.org] serving 100,000 customers with almost 600 radio mesh nodes. Sure there's a few glitches here and there, but it works well, and is getting more subscribers every day.
  • When people talk about the United States lagging behind the world in broadband speed and access, they're talking about the last-mile problem.

    The author throws this out to explain why the "last-mile problem" is such a big deal. Then he goes on to talk about "sunk costs" and other economic explanations for the dominance of a few large, technologically backwards local providers. But he never really explains why the US lags. Is it because other countries are metric, and the kilometer is shorter than the mile?

    (D

  • Leave the government out of it. This is how it should be. We currently have a telecommunication industry based on an outdated government monopoly system. Do you think AT&T has been helpful in innovation? I don't think so... Getting the government involved further would only ruin us for more years to come.

    The ONLY viable way, and the BEST way is to sit on it, until technology has caught up to the point where private enterprises can outcompete the telcos. It's natural, but more importantly, it's INEV
  • Municipal wifi should be about access to the internet in public places, not private places. That's not the last mile that's missing... we don't need free wifi in your home, we need free wifi in parks, plazas, malls, airports, bus stops, train stations, bus stations, post offices, restaurants, libraries, waiting areas in municipal offices and hospitals and so on... anywhere that is a public place. The last furlong, if you like.

    This is what T-Mobile and Sprint and the rest are cherrypicking, setting up expens
  • Does anyone know how much power a Wi-Fi network consumes vs a wired one? I realize that's a difficult comparison to make, but can anyone point me to some data on that topic?

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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