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Wireless Networking Government Hardware Politics

New Report On Municipal Wireless 128

PublicNet SF Coalition introduces us to a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance called "Localizing the Internet: Five Ways Public Ownership Solves the U.S. Broadband Problem." It makes a strong case for municipal ownership of new wireless and fiber-optic networks. The history shows that there is a need for more aggressive public involvement in broadband deployment, and the affordability of wireless is a great opportunity for this.
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New Report On Municipal Wireless

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  • DREAMERS! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MilesNaismith ( 951682 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @04:21AM (#18259696)
    Haven't we been hearing for 5 years now that Muni-WiFi is going to solve all our problems? Yes there are some fools who think because they can setup Aunt Mildred's WiFi-router, that they are now well-equipped to cover a city! Issue of interference, maintenance, management of free-loaders, paying for 24x7 techs (think AT&T linemen) and consequent insurance costs, etc. never seem to enter their minds. I read the RFP for the City of Atlanta muni-WiFi and couldn't stop laughing. For all the freebies and conditions they wanted to layer onto it, there was no contract lockin as incentive. Meaning you could spend years and get a network setup, then the next administration rolls in and says hey we are changing contractors because my cousin knows all about computers, please hand over the keys. Now, where's my flying car?
  • by MilesNaismith ( 951682 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @04:33AM (#18259738)
    The article mentions wireless as a solution, but is not the focus of the article. Overall, this is an incredibly vaugue policy puff-piece. It seems "for" city ownership of networks mainly by comparison to things cities already own like roads and sewer systems. I'll note that it studiously avoids the obvious comparison... TELEPHONES! Why don't we talk about case-studies of cities owning phone systems in the public interest. That would be directly applicable experience to running a complex network. It is conspicuous for it's absence.
  • by systemBuilder ( 305288 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @05:05AM (#18259862) Homepage
    It is not simple to plan and deploy a wireless network. You need to secure broadcast sites, do frequency planning, power planning (too much power and a neighboring cell will see too much interference), and cell planning (which includes specifying sectors and antenna directions), and this is typically done with specialized and often proprietary topological modeling tools. And then there are the issues of lost connections - either from a poor deployment or new-building construction that can lead to shadowing of your signals from a transmission tower. Finally, just whe you get the bugs out ~ time to upgrade and add more cell sites. As far as infrastructure (computer & transmitter) costs, one sees maybe 20% for equipment, and 40% for site rental, power, and backhaul costs, and 40% for frequency licensing on a monthly capitalized basis. So owning the equipment is not a big deal ~ owning the spectrum and owning the rights to the transmit locations and backhaul is really what you're owning. Most importantly ~ making it work 24/7/everywhere is NOT EASY.

    If each locality tries to develop their own expertise in site planning and deployment and maintenance, I fear that municipalities will be overrun by a sea of mediocre engineers with an overly limited worldview ~ that cannot be improved by deploying networks in tens or hundreds of cities, with lessons learned which are reapplied to new deployments.

    I see it today in our cable television monopoly, which is municipally 'outsourced' to a cable provider. This is what most municipalities will end up doing if wireless is publically owned. Our service provider, Time Warner, is too stupid to make our cable modem work. One day, the signal is 20dB at the house, the next day, -15dB at our house. Ok, forget the cable modem. We recently upgraded from analog TV to digital TV and now they are too stupid to make all the paid-for channels work. I am talking literally 5 separate visits from field technicians with no progress (except one technician dumped a DVR at our house an upped our month bill!) As a result, we are going to switch to a satellite provider. The satellite provider has a Network Operations Center (NOC) and can afford to staff the NOC with the PhDs who built the system so that everything in the satellite system works, period, end of story. Unfortunately, a municipally owned wireless network will probably be staffed by yahoos with little knowledge of what it takes to make a system work.
  • Re:DREAMERS! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot,kadin&xoxy,net> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @05:15AM (#18259884) Homepage Journal
    I don't think that anyone is realistically advocating free internet service for anyone. If they are, then I'll join you in calling them a bunch of twits.

    However, what there are some decent proposals for, would be systems where municipalities pay for, and thus own, and absorb the risk of, actually laying the bare infrastructure. So the muni lays the fiber, or pays for the APs, or whatever. Then the municipality, in turn, sells capacity on that network to third parties, who actually provide service to customers. Now, it could be that there are multiple third-parties on the network at once, which IMO would be the best arrangement, because it ensures some customer choice, but practically it might be that there is some sort of selection process and then a recompete or review periodically, which is far less ideal, but better than being stuck with that company forever because they own the only fiber running to your house.

    Certainly I don't want my ISP to be the same bunch of numbskulls who operate the DMV (although, they may actually be better than Comcast, it's sort of a tossup). However, I don't think that municipalities have a terrible history when it comes to the deployment and maintenance of infrastructure. While there are indeed potholes in my road, there is also a road there, and there are roads on each side of it, and there are quite a lot of roads elsewhere, which as a network, are in pretty good shape. (As in, I can pretty much get from any point to any other point without being accosted by bandits or falling into crevasses, or going through a lot of tollbooths, etc.) Looking around, I don't think there are a whole lot of other entities who I'd really trust to take over from them.

    While I normally consider myself pretty far to the Right on the economic scale, I think there are certainly some areas where there are bona fide public interests, and where government is the most capable agency of completing a project (or is the only one you'd want to own and monopolize the finished product); in these areas it doesn't make sense to not do it within the public sector.

    But just because the public owns the infrastructure doesn't mean they have to operate it. Think of the fiber as a canal. Just because the government paid for the canal, doesn't mean that they run the freight companies that ship stuff on it. As a consumer, you can ship goods on the canal using any number of companies, without any contact with the government. The government just extracts their pound of flesh from the companies who ply the canal -- taking the same from each, based on a standard metric -- in order to recoup the investment and do maintenance. The public benefit is in having the canal there in the first place, and in not having it monopolized by one company who is going to maximize profit rather than public utility. (The individual canal boats, in this example, will all seek to maximize profit, but since none of them own the canal proper, they can't monopolize things in the way that a single owner could.)

    The U.S. has a long history of successful heavy-infrastructure projects that were initially funded with public monies, and which paid huge dividends in terms of direct tolls (the canals were huge cash cows, almost to a fault) and economic growth. There's no reason why modern informational infrastructure is any different, inherently, from transportation infrastructure 150-200 years ago. The same trade-offs exist, and the same risk, but also the potential for the same rewards.
  • Re:DREAMERS! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MilesNaismith ( 951682 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @05:32AM (#18259936)
    Yeah I guess a company that has umpty-billions in capital can subsidize wireless so their bedroom community looks leading-edge. What does this have to do with the rest of the country? Is Google going to un-wire the rest of NorCal this year? No, you say? Until then we'll have to come up with other plans. Besides I quite frankly couldn't afford to LIVE in Mountain View. Saving a few bucks on the ISP is hardly a reason to spend a million dollars for a 2x1 1960's ranch-house.
  • Re:DREAMERS! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by @madeus ( 24818 ) <> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:18AM (#18260370)

    There are people in this country right at this moment, without telephone service, or cable-TV, or maybe even enough food or enough money for the rent. Those are real problems. Getting internet, not so much.
    Just because a small number of people are unable to feed and house themselves despite living in a prosperous western society does not mean that providing internet access to the *working* poor is not worthwhile.

    Internet access to young families and the poor is potentially very useful to them, and all the more meaningful because of their circumstances (by which I mean they stand to benefit the most from free access). Added to which, they are the least likely of consumers to spend money on something like 'internet access' in the first place because they are spending what money they do have on immediate needs like food and clothing.

    Internet access opens up the means get cheaper goods and services (they can price compare, order good online for less than retail, etc), as well as an excellent educational resource for both informal and formal learning (with a wealth of government funded - and accredited - online learning initiativesm e.g. things like Lean Direct [], here in the UK).

    Don't wait to lift the bottom 0.01% up out of abject poverty in a western society before you start helping the rest of the bottom 10%. I've got lazy deadbeat relatives in my own family, and they have had all the same opportunities I've had (some more, in fact). Some people just can't be arsed and there is a limit to the patience of others in a reasonable society when it comes to dealing with them - it's not as if they are in a developing nation and have been denied the chance to improve their situations.

  • by galego ( 110613 ) <jsnsotheracct@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:49AM (#18260780)
    What is proposed about network security? Do you want the municipality/state handling the security of your connection and the helpdesk? To get adequately skilled staff and support, they'd have to pay well ... means more taxes of course or less often garbage pickup.

    And this is /., so I can't believe someone hasn't raised the issue of a government entity (local nonetheless) overseeing the network. Of course ... we, the people, are supposed to constitute the government, and should hopefully be more involved at the local municipality and state level. This issue would at least get the geeks involved in local politics.

    But lest I get too far off ... yes, the cell providers would just as soon become the WiFi providers, or make WiFi obsolete and provide access over their WANs etc.
  • Re:DREAMERS! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by moeinvt ( 851793 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @09:10AM (#18260890)
    "I often find it funny that very technical people think internet is important to everyone."

    Have you ever tried talking to one of your fellow citizens who gets information exclusively from the mainstream media? I cringe to think of what our collective world-view would be if we were still relying on NBC/ABC/CBS as our predominant source of information.

    Call me an idealist, but I'm passionate about this, and about Network Neutrality. I think that the free flow of information is critical to any sort of democracy, and is at the foundation of capitalism.
  • Re:DREAMERS! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Russ Nelson ( 33911 ) <> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @10:01AM (#18261262) Homepage
    "The canals were hug cash cows."???

    Surely you jest! The Erie Canal was profitable, but none of the subsequent canals built in NY generated enough income to cover the public money sspent on them. Socialism has always been a bad idea. Didn't ork for the Puritans, didn't work for the communes (e.g. Amana or Oneida), didn't work for the canals or railroads, and currently isn't working for government schooling. Give it a rest!
  • Re:DREAMERS! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @11:13AM (#18262030) Homepage
    Bla Bla Bla, are you done spreading fud?

    I help with a working community WiFi setup using "aunt millies routers". we have point to point setups and quite a few hotspots that cover what is needed where it is needed and it works JUST FINE. none of us are FCC certified technicians or are using overpriced cisco crap, our current darling is a buffalo $49.00 wifi router running a custom openWRT install for each hotspot, and yes placed right you can get 4 of them to cover a park very well all on the same channel.

    anyone that can understand the basics of ham radio, WiFi and can organize a few people can do this and do it with (gasp!) consumer grade hardware.

    Want to see the REAL problems with it? corrupt city officials that sign "agreements" with cable TV and Cellular companies to make community wifi illegal, or they decide you are a new revenue source and try to extort money out of you. We just meet operating expenses and atill have to fend off assholes in government on a monthly basis because they have dollarsigns in their eyes, or believe because they can balance their own checkbook they can run the city and everyone should listen to them.

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors