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Wireless Networking Government Hardware News

Municipal WiFi Moves Ahead In Houston 66

Posted by kdawson
from the right-model-this-time dept.
Highlander404 sends word of one city that is bucking the trend of failing city Wi-Fi projects: Houston is investing most of the $5 million Earthlink paid to get out of its muni Wi-Fi contract to build out 10 free wireless network "bubbles" in low-income parts of the city. Access points will be in city-owned facilities to keep costs down. Houston's mayor said that over the long term the bubbles could be connected and the areas between them added to the network. The activation of the first of these zones was announced Monday. Upload and download speeds are said to be 3 Mbps.
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Municipal WiFi Moves Ahead In Houston

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  • Not that failing (Score:3, Informative)

    by steveo777 (183629) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @05:03PM (#22863502) Homepage Journal
    We have it in Minneapolis [minneapolis.mn.us]. I'm not a subscriber but there is presence pretty much anywhere?
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I subscribe to the minneapolis service. They're having problems and are behind schedule, but I don't get the impression that there's a problem. It's not as fast as cable, but I can watch videos without any problem plus I can roam the city with an internet onnection. I just can't stand Comcast and would support this just to ensure competition.
      • Its not as fast as cable but it is as fast as my "8MB" TalkTalk ADSL in the UK which runs at a shade under 3MB per second.
  • by snsh (968808)
    I think somebody in Texas is pulling a prank with acronyms.
    • I'm wondering:

      How are "low income areas" supposed to afford the equipment needed to access these Wi-Fi connections? Most of them are just trying to pay their weekly grocery bill. (Talk about mixed-up priorities by the Houston City politicians.)

  • by Otter (3800)
    I hope this works better than Houston's attempt to create their own office suite [usatoday.com], the only notable result of which was a full week of Daily WTF stories on its creation.
  • What happens when, just like the .com and housing ones, this bubble bursts? $3.5 million down the drain, that's what.
    • Re:More bubbles? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by penix1 (722987) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @09:41PM (#22865550) Homepage

      What happens when, just like the .com and housing ones, this bubble bursts? $3.5 million down the drain, that's what.


      I don't think so. This is going into areas where the broadband providers don't tread. From TFS:

      Houston is investing most of the $5 million Earthlink paid to get out of its muni Wi-Fi contract to build out 10 free wireless network "bubbles" in low-income parts of the city.


      Houston is doing what all governments do. It is providing services it sees as necessary that the private sector can't or won't do. It's funny how when a community decides to provide a service the private sector may be in they scream foul but when that service becomes unprofitable they want out as fast as possible. The question is what other consessions did Earthlink get out of Houston? A company willing to pay $$$ to get out of a contract has done the bean counting before signing and you can bet your bottom dollar that those beans fall in Earthlink's favor.
      • I don't think so. This is going into areas where the broadband providers don't tread.

        All of the locations I have seen on the list are DSL capable. Many even have 2wire854 ssid's all over. My girlfriends brother had Juno DSL right in the middle of the "Gulfton Super Neighborhood." Cable modems are widely available in the homes, but not in all the apartments.
        • by penix1 (722987)
          Availability isn't the only place tread here. It is going into "low income" areas that the companies won't tread hence the "not profitable" comment from them. It has very little to do with accessability and everything to do with money.
  • someone is paying for it, be it other earthnet customers or the taxpayers
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ribit (952003)
      OK.. "Free at the point of need or provision" We need more of these, partly to combat the silly ideas of those that would try to make it a crime to 'attempt to join an open network'
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by YrWrstNtmr (564987)
        partly to combat the silly ideas of those that would try to make it a crime to 'attempt to join an open network'

        Joining a network that is financed, designed, and built to be open from the start is very different than joining a random 'open' residential network. No matter how the protocol of two computers asking and granting each other access really works.
        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by ribit (952003)
          My point is that the poor user won't usually be able to tell the difference between an intentionally open vs accidentally open network.
          • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

            by YrWrstNtmr (564987)
            My point is that the poor user won't usually be able to tell the difference between an intentionally open vs accidentally open network.

            Maybe the muni network SSID should be something like "Houston Open Access Network". Easy to make it unambiguous.
            • by ribit (952003)
              In practice both city networks and home users don't always follow an accepted naming scheme, so it will never be clear to the end user. In my house there is a network called 'The Low Tide Lounge' (but it's not a bar, its just a home network), and I've seen a cafe base station set to "Apple Network .."... how could you tell what's a business or city network or whatever?
              • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

                by YrWrstNtmr (564987)
                "The Low Tide Lounge"
                Apple Network"
                how could you tell what's a business or city network or whatever?


                Personally, I would not assume either was open for anyone to use. But that's just me.
                A muni network that is supposed to be open should be visibly (SSID) labeled as such.
                • by ribit (952003)
                  I will assume any open network that doesn't say 'Private' is free to use. How are we to promote proliferation of shared private and public networks if everyone is living in fear of using services that people are putting in place for them?
            • Maybe the muni network SSID should be something like "Free Public WiFi"
              Fixed ;)
    • by geekoid (135745)
      No Shit.

      Everyone knowa that, you are not being witty, informative or intelligent by pointing it out.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Teflon_Jeff (1221290)
      Of course, everything has to be paid for. In this case, Earthlink is paying for it out of their profits. Which means their customers are paying for it. Which means their employers are paying for it... and so on. But it is free to the users, for now. It'll be interesting how it develops from here though.
  • by bennomatic (691188) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @06:39PM (#22864370) Homepage
    ...and it shouldn't have to be. I think it's a great idea to build out some of that infrastructure, but anyone who thinks it's going to bring full bandwidth to the masses has another think coming. But I have an idea to get businesses to provide this sort of service for "free". Feel free to implement, sell, and tell me your success stories. First, you'd need an easy-to-administrate wireless access point which allows businesses to customize the "Welcome" page, but has few other configurable options. Then you'd need to convince businesses that it's worthwhile for them to get DSL/Cable and run one of your wireless access points in their front window. The customizable "Welcome" page could just be a "digital billboard", saying, "This Internet session courtesy of Blah Blah, incorporated. Come in for a free home loan analysis." Or $0.50 off a mocha. Or something. Then let the user roam free on the net, maybe asking for their contact info first for later mailers if they want to get coupons. This could be extended to almost any fixed structure. Make the system weather-proof, and you could sell the idea to the businesses that advertise on billboards, so that anyone near such a billboard would get free Internet access after being notified of the advertiser's presence, maybe offered something special for calling the number on the billboard. Even newspaper kiosks could offer web access, if they're nailed down and wired appropriately. That way, people who are pulling out their iPhones to check movie listings or look up the weather could get that information from LocalPaper.com's site before moving on to the full-blown Internet. Just an idea, but I think it'd be a good way to profitably get Internet access points freely available, at least to high-traffic business districts. Then let the city build out to other areas; maybe start in less affluent areas where even slow access to the Internet for free would be a great benefit for those who can't afford $25.00/month for DSL.
    • by imamac (1083405)
      As long as the ad was a single page and was simple to dismiss, that would work VERY well. I have to go through about 3 pages at Panera to use their free wi-fi. It's annoying. But I use it because it's free. So maybe My point isn't that valid after all.
      • Yeah, I'm with you on the single-page thing. There's a point where you're willing to suffer it (2-3 pages), and a point where you get left with the feeling of, "wow, that's cool." I think 1 page would probably make more customers for a lot of businesses.
        And considering these'll probably be people with hand-held (i.e. iphone) devices, they probably have some money to spend. Unless, of course, they've spent it all on their iphone.
  • Does anyone know where I can find a projected coverage area map of "bubbles"? Thanks
  • The city bus costs $1.50. Gas $3.59 a gallon. Milk $2.50.

    Families are dependent on the food bank, minimum wage jobs, welfare and SSI benefits . The Medicaid co-pay on a prescription drug is $3.00. Who among them can afford a computer?

    • Who among them can afford a computer?

      A lot more than you might think. I personally have given 8-10 laptops and PC's to families that would otherwise not have one. And in the grand scheme of things, $300 is doable for a lot of people. Everyone doesn't really need that $2500 gaming rig. Friend/family/corporate castoffs work quite well.
      • by ancientt (569920)

        The cost of getting a computer is fixed. As a one time expense, it is something even a poor family can save up for. Sure, $200 for a crappy laptop and wifi card make take some saving up, but that is something that can be managed. A monthly cost of $35 (if they're very lucky) for broadband that only works at home is not an appealing proposition if you're barely scraping by. If you look at it as a two year investment, that is $8.50/month vs. $43.50/month.

        The laptop also has the benefits of being able to help

    • by UHBo2 (665759)
      I ride the bus in Houston on a regular basis and its only $1. The gas station accross the street has gas for $3.07 right now. While we do have a fair amount of people who are on welfare, and have minimum wage jobs, this can only be a boom for the city in general. One of the poorest neigherborhoods in Houston is between 2 universities so I imagine that this would also help out students who live near the campuses.
  • by penguin_dance (536599) on Tuesday March 25, 2008 @08:29PM (#22865170)
    As a native Houstonian, so I think I can speak knowledgeably about this. The fact that Earthlink was willing to cough up $5 million to get out of a contract should tell you something. Obviously they realized this would be money losing proposition. Unfortunately, trust Houston to ignore the problems in other cities and plow ahead anyway. And yes, Earthlink defaulted, but that money now belongs to the taxpayers. It could be MUCH better used--such as hiring more police and fire personnel--than handing out "free" access at taxpayer expense.

    Putting these bubbles in "low income" areas makes absolutely no sense, unless they plan to also put in computers or some sort of cybercafe. Most of the people living there are not going to be sporting lap tops. And if they have a computer they're unlikely to have a wireless modem. They'll expect to be given one for free though. These are not nice parts of town. I used to live (briefly) not far from area highlighted on the map in the story. If you stand outside at night (not advisable), you very often hear gunfire. A murdered prostitute was found in the field across from the condos I lived in. Lots of drug dealing. This is not indicative of Houston--it has plenty good areas. I make this point in that if they do set up any sort of computer kiosk places in areas like this, it's going to have to have 24 hour security.

    Most of the people taking advantage of this are going to be small-medium businesses who will be milking the free bandwidth, not lower income families. Houston libraries already have computers and internet access, this will give others the ability to bring their own computer--but again, I wouldn't in these areas of town. I think this is going to be a colossal waste of tax payer money.

    • As a fellow Houstonian, I concur. We don' need municipal wi-fi anymore than we need another freakin' light rail train (er, I mean "trolly").

      The bandwidth costs and maintenance overtime will far exceed the $5M "windfall" from the default fine against Earthlink. Yet another money pit.
      • We don' need municipal wi-fi anymore than we need another freakin' light rail train (er, I mean "trolly").

        AKA: The DANGER TRAIN! LOL! (or less familiar, the Wham Bam Tram)

        (Houston Rail has a bad reputation of accidents considering the small distance it goes downtown to the medical center and on to the Reliant Center. I think they quit counting after they reached 100 in 2005. And not all are the auto drivers' fault. When you see where the rails go it's no wonder--at one point in the medical center, a left tu
    • Most of the people taking advantage of this are going to be small-medium businesses who will be milking the free bandwidth, not lower income families.

      I'm not sure about this particular area, but other low-income areas in Houston just happen to have high-priced lofts right next door. Those people will be using the free wifi, too.

      By the way, this is a project from the same mayor who wanted to evict [chron.com] a facility for the mentally retarded.

    • Most of the people living there are not going to be sporting lap tops.
      Except for the @#$hole that during the 10-year slashdot anniversary in Houston smashed my passenger side window and stole my laptop. I hope he's happy he gets his "free" wifi now.

      -metric
    • Because tax payer money will be used to maintain this setup. I am quite sure the residents in these lower income areas could be better served by improving existing city services in their area, health clinics, and job training. Instead some politician gets to feel good and get face time by wasting tax payer dollars. I bet when challenged they will throw back "its for the children".

      Yet sure as rain the next budget rolls along and they will have to get more money for the programs they should have done.

      Tax p
      • Because tax payer money will be used to maintain this setup. I am quite sure the residents in these lower income areas could be better served by improving existing city services in their area, health clinics, and job training.

        The first "bubble" is in a predominantly Latin neighborhood. From what I have seen, the people there don't need job training... They do the jobs "Americans Won't Do" and could work part time teaching foreign concepts like work ethics. We still have people here getting FEMA checks
    • As a fellow Houstonian who lived in the Gulfton area before it backslid into such a high crime area,
      I think you are assuming way too much. There are plenty of devices that can be had free or cheap
      to get on the net, and that are certainly in the reach of low-income family. I've seen plenty
      of PSPs ($169) and Nintendo DS ($129) floating around low income neighborhoods just to start, so people are willing
      to drop even "small" (by your standard or mine) amounts of disposable income on entertainment. And both
      th
      • I'm not so much worried about them getting the computers, I'm sure there will be groups set up to donate equipment. But will it be used or just resold? How many of these families will actually use the equipment? There's money, even in the poorer communities. But will it be spent on educational items or the latest footwear?

        These are the communities who, when the weather is extrodinarily hot, will get free window unit ACs donated to them, then turn around and sell them when the weather cools down. Because the
        • by eudaemon (320983) *
          Penguin,

          You may be right -- I'm sure there are people savvy enough to think if I can get something
          for free and sell it for a profit, they'll do exactly that. Hell that's just efficient
          market making in the Adam Smith invisible hand sort of way.

          On the other hand you have people with children who sincerely want the tools to help those
          children succeed, and will gladly use a free or cheap computer qualifies if it means free internet access
          for junior. People in that category value the computer more than the sho
  • Anyone else work/live within the first bubble (supposedly active currently)?
    I am trying to find a signal but having no luck.

  • Perhaps Houston got this right?

    When I more there to get away
    from the Internet Monopoly that
    does not provide where I live, the
    Income in that block will go up.

    And I bet I am not the only one
    that cant stand the Internet Monopoly
    most of live in.

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