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Into thin air — Why Silicon Valley Wi-Fi fizzled

How community-based Wi-Fi faded away — and why Valley leaders won't let it go

It seemed like such a good idea — Internet for everyone, everywhere. So much so that cities across the United States announced plans for citywide Wi-Fi networks in an excited chorus starting in the early 2000s.

But in the last few years, most cities' plans to provide Internet access through a wireless network have fallen flat, deflated by shortcomings in technology and financial woes.

This spring, Silicon Valley became the latest casualty of the Wi-Fi flop.

In April, Internet-service provider Earthlink pulled out of Milpitas, part of a strategy to abandon the municipal-wireless business altogether. In May, Metrofi announced plans to pull the plug on Wi-Fi service to Cupertino, Sunnyvale, downtown San Jose, Santa Clara, Foster City and Concord. Those services went dark in June.

Throughout, Palo Alto has remained mostly on the sidelines, partially by intent and partially by chance.

The city's latest brush with Wi-Fi — a branded moniker for the short-distance wireless data transmission standard — came to an end this spring, when a business group working on establishing a Valley-wide wireless network, Silicon Valley Metro Connect, canceled plans to use Palo Alto as a test site in favor of San Carlos.

The city has historically looked at a different technology anyway, the super-fast cable service known as "fiber," of which it installed a roughly 40-mile network in 1996-98. The City Council will consider a proposal from Web firms to expand the fiber network at its July 7 and 14 meetings.

Yet Silicon Valley leaders insist wide-range wireless Internet continues to hold promise.

Bill Marion, Milpitas' information service director, believes Wi-Fi could help anyone who needs Internet "in the field" — from city inspectors to real-estate agencies. While Milpitas already has a smaller wireless system on main roads for its emergency vehicles, it is now considering using Earthlink's leftover equipment to restart a Wi-Fi network.

Wireless services could help machines communicate with each other — streamlining city and business functions, according to Seth Fearey, the vice president and chief operating officer of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. Fearey's group is leading the Wireless Silicon Valley project under which Silicon Valley Metro Connect is conducting the San Carlos pilot.

And the ideal of the Internet as a great equalizer lives on in East Palo Alto, where a nonprofit coalition called WiFi101 launched a network of the same name in May. The WiFi101 network, they say, could once and for all bridge the "digital divide" separating residents from the benefits of Internet access.

While wireless initiatives nationwide and in Silicon Valley falter, local leaders are hesitant to let them fade. There is hope here, and a search for better solutions, they say.

Citywide Wi-Fi access seemed brimming with potential a few years ago. Proponents said a free service, or at least one that offered both free and premium options, could help poorer communities reap Web-based benefits.

It would democratize the Internet, they said. Others dreamt of improved business or city services, or just offering residents another Internet provider. And simply put, the idea was downright nifty. While privacy concerns or doubts about practical implementation surfaced, many embraced the idea of ubiquitous Internet. In the evolution of the wired world, it seemed like the next step.

Yet citywide Wi-Fi ultimately fell prey to both technological and fiscal maladies, just like the adage that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

When governments from Philadelphia to San Francisco announced plans for municipal Wi-Fi systems circa 2004 they were hesitant to incur costs. So many brokered deals that saddled Internet firms with the task of building and running networks.

According to Rick Kitson, a spokesman for the City of Cupertino, the city's relationship to the firm was limited to one of "light-pole tenant." MetroFi rented poles on which to hang equipment, and the city paid nothing for the service, he said.

Sunnyvale had a similar set-up, with the business renting poles.

"It wasn't a partnership," city spokesperson John Pilger emphasized.

In such arrangements, it was up to the Internet firm to turn a profit.

Kitson said MetroFi tried several business models in Cupertino, including a home-subscriber service and selling advertisements to support its free service.

But this spring, MetroFi announced it was canceling Wi-Fi efforts throughout the Bay Area. News reports quoted Lucie Poulicakos, MetroFi's vice president of operations, as saying the company was considering bankruptcy.

Poulicakos declined to comment for this article, suggesting instead MetroFi CEO Chuck Haas, who did not return phone calls.

Behind the failure of subscriptions and advertising to sustain business lies a deeper flaw — the technology itself.

If Wi-Fi worked well over large metropolitan areas, perhaps it would attract more customers and advertisers. But it doesn't, according to residents and city officials.

One problem is the frequency on which Wi-Fi is broadcast, which — unlike old-fashioned analog television frequencies — is suited for short distances, Fearey said.

The architecture of a Wi-Fi network therefore relies on many transmitters relatively close to one another to blanket a given area, a structure called a mesh network. Some transmitters, known as nodes, aren't connected directly to the Internet server but rather relay the data to nodes that are.

The individual nodes, in turn, can be blocked from communicating with one another by tall buildings, hills or other obstructions.

This means Wi-Fi installed outdoors often remains outdoors, unable to penetrate thick walls.

Sunnyvale's brick library proved impermeable to MetroFi nodes despite two close-by installations, Pilger said. The city eventually installed its own Wi-Fi within the building, he said.

All these physical obstacles can make Wi-Fi service unpredictable — "a bit voo-doo," according to Solomon Hill, a partner in the East Palo Alto Wi-Fi effort.

In some cases, an amplifier can bring the Wi-Fi signal indoors — but that represented a surprise hurdle for Milpitas residents, according to Bill Marion, the city's information-service director.

People signing up for Earthlink's fee-based wireless service for about $20 monthly hadn't expected the hidden cost of the $100 amplifier, he said.

"A lot of people probably thought they could just open up their laptop in their house and everything would work. Well, not necessarily," he said. Many simply weren't familiar with Wi-Fi, accustomed to wire-based services such as DSL or cable, he said.

Earthlink arrived in Milpitas in 2006 and pulled out this spring, transferring its infrastructure to the city, which is considering what to do next, Marion said.

Finally, a basic practical concern lies at the heart of municipal Wi-Fi — does outdoor Internet service truly fill a need?

Web giant Google pays for a free Wi-Fi network in Mountain View as part of a five-year agreement with the city, set to run through 2011.

Resident Sam Sherman said he has trouble getting the Google Wi-Fi signal at home and hasn't tried it outside. Why?

"I prefer to be inside because there's air conditioning," he said.

Sherman is a barista at the popular Dana Street Roasting Company cafe, which already had a Wi-Fi network before Google's and doesn't rely on the Web firm's service to link patrons to the Internet, he said.

Daniel DeBolt, a reporter at The Mountain View Voice, the Weekly's sister paper, said he searched for people using the Wi-Fi network outdoors for articles on the Google service.

He couldn't find any.

Google representative Andrew Pederson cited a Google corporate-blog entry that said 15,000 different computers log on to the network monthly. The city has about 70,000 residents, according to a 2003 census.

Unlike MetroFi and Earthlink, however, Google doesn't need to profit from the arrangement. Pederson said the firm is driven by a desire to give back to the city — and the belief that more people online is better for Google, anyway.

In the wake of MetroFi and Earthlink's departures, city officials are wistful for what could have been.

"Any time a company like that fails to succeed, especially a local company, you know the people personally. It's very sad," Kitson said of MetroFi's departure.

Company leader Haas is a Cupertino resident and volunteers with the Boy Scouts, he added.

The city couldn't afford MetroFi's $1,000-per-node or $135,000 asking price to take over the technology and operate the network, so it will disappear for the time being, he said. But Silicon Valley being Silicon Valley, a new solution may not be far off.

"We're excited for the next technology and business model to come along because undoubtedly there will be [one," Kitson said.

That model may have already arrived. Or such is the hope behind Fearey's Wireless Silicon Valley project.

A project task force of city officials, utility and sheriffs' departments and transportation authorities looked specifically for sustainability when it solicited for proposals in 2006, Fearey said.

"There's been a long history of wireless companies setting up all their equipment and then a year or two later they go out of business. So the criteria is a sustainable business model," he said.

Under that umbrella falls a variety of wireless — but not necessarily Wi-Fi — technologies, as well as the goal of serving businesses, rather than households, he said.

The nonprofit chose a proposal from a group of corporations calling itself Silicon Valley Metro Connect, whose members include Cisco, IBM, Azulstar, SeaKay and most recently Covad Communications.

The companies initially picked Palo Alto as a test site, but ducked out in March in favor of San Carlos because the city administration was already a Covad customer, Fearey said.

For the San Carlos trial, which is currently being set up, the companies are not solely relying on much-maligned Wi-Fi technology, according to Assistant City Manager Brian Moura. They will use WiMax, a longer-range technology, to connect Wi-Fi hotspots, he said.

But further technological details are murky, with Fearey and Moura saying they know little of the specifics and Covad declining numerous requests for comment.

Like Palo Alto's upcoming consideration of a fiber service, the San Carlos model will be commercial, Moura said.

"This is really about giving small businesses another choice. ... This is very much an economic development focus," he explained, adding it was a six-month trial.

The service will operate in an outdoor, square-mile business area, he said.

Fearey is confident the wireless will work out, someday. It is just too valuable an idea to go away, he said.

For example, wireless technologies that send only small bits of data in short bursts could streamline plenty of services, he predicted.

A soda machine could alert vendors when empty without an employee having check it. Water or electrical meters could send the city their readings without a staff member having to visit.

"Once this initiative is in place, there's going to be an explosion of business and services that take advantage of it," he said.

Milpitas' Marion agreed.

City workers completing inspections would no longer need to fill out reports then upload them in separate steps if they could access the Internet in the field, he said.

Building inspectors, for example, spend about an hour at the end of the day putting their data online. If Milpitas' 12 inspectors could each save an hour a day, that would make 60 saved hours a week, he said. Put another way, that's one-and-a-half fewer employees for the city to bankroll.

When Earthlink vacated Milpitas, it left behind a $1.8 million infrastructure — for free. The city put out a call for proposals on how to take advantage of it and got two offers, Marion said.

One is from Veraloft, which operates networks in Pacifica and Half Moon Bay and has partnered with WiFi101 in East Palo Alto.

The other is a joint proposal from Google and iNet solutions to form a nonprofit to operate the network, according to Marion. A review process involving the city attorney and council will take place next, he said.

Amid the pull-outs and uncertainty, one city is embracing Wi-Fi as a solution to social inequality.

In May, the WiFi101 network went live in East Palo Alto.

It's a city where only one in five families has a computer at home and even fewer have Internet access, according to a 2001 survey in the school district, Hill said.

On many days, the library is full of kids and an occasional adult jostling for space at computer terminals.

For students and city residents, the Internet-as-equalizer concept — now more idealistic than necessary in many communities — is a bare reality, according to Hill.

"We're in the middle of Silicon Valley [and ... the economy is now online. If you don't have access you're going to be cut off," he said.

Hill knows other networks have fizzled. WiFi101 won't, he said.

The network is operated by a consortium of nonprofits, including the Ravenswood City School District, where Hill is technology director; One East Palo Alto, a longtime community-betterment group; and career-focused JobTrain, among others.

They are working to not merely run a Wi-Fi network — but create a self-perpetuating wireless culture, according to Hill.

The consortium, also called WiFi101, will operate a technician-training program for young people, primarily through JobTrain. Those trainees will then become the technical-support staff behind the fee-based service WiFi101 offers to residents and businesses. Without tech support, the network is free to all comers. With support, it costs $15 monthly for individuals and $50 for businesses.

The network is currently funded by a three-year grant from California Emerging Technology Fund, a matching grant Hill and others must fundraise to meet. They are hoping the training and support service will provide money in the long run, Hill said.

In addition to the sustainability plan, the technology powering WiFi101 will help it surmount hurdles other networks have stumbled over — literally, he said.

Rather than a node-based mesh network, Wifi101 is powered by high-performance antennas, he explained.

The antennas, made by Altai Technology and costing about $10,000 each, are installed on school buildings, tall buildings — and even the Four Seasons Hotel, which lent a patch of roof for the cause, he said.

The city is relatively flat with only a few tall structures, so the antennas shouldn't have too much trouble, according to Hill. And if the signal has trouble penetrating walls, residents can purchase an amplifier for as little as $60, he added.

The only area where the signal may have trouble reaching is near the Palo Alto border in the baylands, where the group has yet to find a suitable place to install an antenna.

Hill was in high spirits when talking about the network, perhaps the final key to bridging the so-called digital divide for his underserved community.

But as with so many other Wi-Fi schemes, this one isn't proceeding without a few clouds on the horizon.

The server had already been slowed by the number of users as of early June, Hill said. Even without advertising — the group wants to first finish installing the network over the next two months — 424 users had used it , in addition to the 50 or so private users, according to Stuart Jeffery, who is also working on the project.

"We're starting to sort of wonder how much bandwidth we're going to need. ... We're already maxing out the connection," Hill reflected. The consortium hopes to find a corporate partner to donate bandwidth, he said.

And a Weekly test of the network failed to find and sustain an Internet connection at several points within the city, including near antennas at City Hall and Costaño Elementary School.

Ultimately, the East Palo Alto network resembles other Wi-Fi networks in Silicon Valley — full of potential yet marked by uncertainty. It is unclear right now whether WiFi101 can bring Internet to the people.

Or whether the Covad-consortium can successfully woo small businesses in San Carlos.

Or whether the plan Milpitas picks will work out in the end.

But one thing is certain. The sun hasn't set on municipal Wi-Fi yet, at least not in Silicon Valley.

Related stories:

Faster than a speeding data stream

Comments

Posted by Jon, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:05 am

"Citywide Wi-Fi access seemed brimming with potential a few years ago. Proponents said a free service, or at least one that offered both free and premium options, could help poorer communities reap Web-based benefits."

Once you understand how wireless technology continues to evolve at a quick pace

Wireless 802.11 b
then 802.11 a
then 802.11 g
and now 802.11 n except it was a "draft"
and now now, you have 802.11 n Draft 2
which will hopefully be it for now...
wait, then there is WiMAX and the technology is still being developed.

you realize "brimming with potential" was no more than a mirage. Proponents need to be reminded if the poor have trouble with getting access, there are other ways to do so. Their children can use the computers at schools, and with a state requirement for public schools to offer internet access, they could also do what Fon did and have a whole network running off of a few selected wireless access points, and with everyone using the same gear, they would each be paying a fraction of what they pay now by all chipping in. My point here is communities, if they take their own initiatives, can make it happen.

"It would democratize the Internet, they said. Others dreamt of improved business or city services, or just offering residents another Internet provider."

I never figgured if a city-wide WiFi network would interfere with personal WiFi networks, since it is an issue that occurs between two wireless routers with overlapping signals. Also the democratization of the internet is a dual edged sword. Here is an interesting article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Web Link

Let me also say, I don't think the internet is well used, and the democratization among the youth leads to an unhealthy addiction to online games, and honestly not a lot of education.

Jordan's LapTop program was a big effing joke, and clearly ignored the social inequalities by asking everyone to pony up 2k for a flimsy Mac running OS9.

Paly has laptop carts, but whenever they are used, students are surfing on Facebook and Youtube, and not actually working.

If we get kids off the computer, they can focus on their studies and actually have a good shot at going far in their educational careers.


Back to "the internets"

God-forbid there is a sizable group still using dial-up...and with basic DSL at around $15-20/mo, it's nearly the same price now.

Rep. Anna Eschoo (D-California) Also had a great idea, except Gizmodo remained cynical.
Web Link

I end with this note:
So everyone gets their fat economic stimulus checks from Uncle Sam.
Immediately, the porn industry experiences a surge in sales growth.
Web Link


Posted by Just-the-Facts, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:03 am

While there are those who envision a day when government provided Broadband snakes its way into every government provided dwelling unit and government-run business in the land .. there are some realities to consider:
----
Web Link

Study says many dial-up users don't want broadband

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer Thu Jul 3, 1:34 AM ET

NEW YORK - A new study suggests that attitude rather than availability may be the key reason why more Americans don't have high-speed Internet access.


The findings from the Pew Internet and American Life Project challenge the argument that broadband providers need to more aggressively roll out supply to meet demand.

Only 14 percent of dial-up users say they're stuck with the older, slower connection technology because they can't get broadband in their neighborhoods, Pew reported Wednesday.

Thirty-five percent say they're still on dial-up because broadband prices are too high, while another 19 percent say nothing would persuade them to upgrade. The remainder have other reasons or do not know.

"That suggests that solving the supply problem where there are availability gaps is only going to go so far," said John Horrigan, the study's author. "It's going to have to be a process of getting people more engaged with information technology and demonstrating to people it's worth it for them to make the investment of time and money."

Nonetheless, the Pew study does support concerns that rural Americans have more trouble getting faster Internet connections, which bring greater opportunities to work from home or log into classes at distant universities. Twenty-four percent of rural dial-up users say they would get broadband if it becomes available, compared with 11 percent for suburbanites and 3 percent for city dwellers.

Vint Cerf, one of the Internet's key inventors and an advocate for the idea that the government should be more active in expanding broadband, suspects that many more dial-up users would be interested in going high-speed if they had a better idea of what they're missing. He pointed out that broadband access is available from only one provider in many areas, keeping prices high and speeds low.

"Some residential users may not see a need for higher speeds because they don't know about or don't have ability to use high speeds," Cerf said. "My enthusiasm for video conferencing improved dramatically when all family members had MacBook Pros with built-in video cameras, for example."

Overall, Pew found that 55 percent of American adults now have broadband access at home, up from 47 percent a year earlier and 42 percent in March 2007. By contrast, only 10 percent of Americans now have dial-up access.

Despite the increase in overall broadband adoption, though, growth has been flat among blacks and poorer Americans.

Of the Americans with no Internet access at all, about a third say they have no interest in logging on, even at dial-up speeds. Nearly 20 percent of nonusers had access in the past but dropped it. Older and lower-income Americans are most likely to be offline.

Pew's telephone study of 2,251 U.S. adults, including 1,553 Internet users, was conducted April 8 to May 11 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. The error margins for subgroups are higher — plus or minus 7 percentage points for the dial-up sample.


Posted by eric, a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:40 am

The free wi-fi (courtesy of Google) in Mtn View is very heavily used-- I use it myself in my home (only as a backup to my own network) and around town, both indoors and out- it is pretty reliable in most parts of town. If you go to city hall plaza on a nice day, I guarantee you'll see someone with a laptop logged on via Google-- the Voice reporter must have gone out when it was raining!

I think PA would be better served by pursuing this sort of tech than the broadband plan currently under consideration.


Posted by It's-In-The-Air, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2008 at 11:24 am

This article is so long--and devoid of meaningful information--that it can only be seen as propaganda, intended to marginalize emerging wireless networking technologies.

WiFi was designed to have a footprint with a radius of 300 feet (outdoors). Indoors, its footprint is much less--based on building construction. The whole idea has reliability problems ingrained in its DNA. While small-zone WiFi (like a downtown area, or a small town like Mountain View) is feasible--large zone deployments are rife with problems. Since the access points are exposed (generally on street lights), vandals can easily shoot out the boxes--making the system unavailable and the cost to operate higher than predicted.

The cost of the in-door amplifier (cited at $100 in the article) solves most of the building penetration problems--but some how the idea of paying $100 to save spending thousands for low-end Internet access seemed to hard a concept for many to grasp.

The next generation wireless Internet access technology (called WiMax) has been under development for some time now--championed by Intel, and other industry giants:

Web Link

This technology is being deployed world wide. In fact, WiMax is being deployed in rural Alberta (the home of "SuperNet")--making up about 20% of the network.

The reality is that all network technology is expensive .. so investors are necessarily conservative about using their own money to deploy a lot of high cost fiber--which could take decades to see a return on investment that is meaningful.

WiMax offers network providers reasonably inexpensive alternatives to expensive fiber in less densely populated areas, as well as urban areas:

----
Web Link

Fixed wireless player plans more U.K. WiMAX
By Peter Judge , TechWorld , 07/08/2008

The U.K.'s largest fixed wireless access (FWA) provider, is moving its network to WiMAX, and the EC has announced a decision that should
increase the availability of WiMAX spectrum in Europe.

On-Communications, which offers fixed wireless services designed to compete with business-quality leased lines, already operates in London, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Oxford, and will be using equipment from Airspan for a major rollout of "hundreds" of WiMAX base stations. New installations will use Airspan's MicroMax products, and the existing networks will be moved to WiMAX more gradually, the company said.
-----

WiMax would have been a much better choice for the regional Wireless Internet project than WiFi.

--
(The article does not, by the way, remind us of Mr. Fearey's association with the failed Palo Alto Co-Op Cable Operation.)


Posted by GoogleUser, a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I use Google's wifi in my home for my only internet service. We did buy the amplifier; anyone who reads up on this ahead of time should know that you would probably need one to boost the signal indoors. It generally works well--occasionally in the early evening, the network seems to slow down. Perhaps lots of people all logging on through the same node at one time? Don't know. It has been much better lately. In general, it is at least as fast as our old DSL service was, similar reliability--and free. Can't beat that. My husband's laptop always works well outdoors using Google, too. I like it.


Posted by WiFi User, a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2008 at 2:10 pm

"When governments from Philadelphia to San Francisco announced plans for municipal Wi-Fi systems circa 2004 they were hesitant to incur costs. So many brokered deals that saddled Internet firms with the task of building and running networks."

Uh, nice whitewashing of history.
Earthlink, one of those "saddled" Internet firms was actually an active and vocal force in grabbing those deals-low bidding and muscling out other options with their promises of how they and only they had the expertise, knowledge, and wherewithal to handle the wi-fi buildup.

Then their stock tanked, they re-organized, and cancelled their contracts with several cities, leaving Milpitas, SF, and Philadelphia out in the cold. No one "saddled" Earthlink with anything-they fought to get those contracts, and failed to deliver what they promised.

Did you actually research information on Earthlink's municipal Wi-fi involvement and failures at all?


Posted by veejaytsunamix, a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Meanwhile in Europe:
100,000 broadband customers switch on to BT Fon

BT today announced that it has attracted over 100,000 members in the UK to BT FON, the world's largest Wi-Fi community, where members share their broadband connection to establish a network of wireless hotspots. BT has also been recognised for its success with the BT FON community project, launched with its partner Fon, by being named the most Innovative Wireless Broadband Company by the 2008 Wireless Broadband Innovation Awards.

Since the launch of BT FON in October last year, 100,000 BT Total Broadband customers have come together to join the BT FON community, creating thousands of new Wi-Fi hotspots up and down the country.


Posted by Andrew, a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 9, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Count me as another Google Wifi home user. When I started using it about a year ago it was pretty unreliable, but now it is acceptable to me. No idea why, but right around when they offered "GoogleWifiSecure" it became much more reliable. No, it isn't as fast as Comcast, but it gets the job done. I did have to buy the $100 antenna booster, but I don't complain.


Posted by wireless love, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2008 at 10:18 pm

WiFi is very cool technology. I'm using it right now. We couldn't prosper without it. The United States is essentially a backwards nation. even right here in Silicon Valley, the so-called center of the technology universe. Heck, we don't even have fiber!


Posted by Dark-Fiber, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2008 at 6:13 am

> Heck, we don't even have fiber!

Fiber is in use in the communications backbones of Silicon Valley. AT&T U-Verse, and Comcast .. have installed fiber into the neighborhoods. Fiber has been installed in many apartment complexes through the Silicon Valley.

There is a lot of "dark fiber" available.


Posted by Jon, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 10, 2008 at 1:10 pm

What we have these days is a large focus on internet availability but none on its uses. Are we really providing access to children for the sake of education or just for their amusement/risk?

Are we educating our students about great learning resources out there that can help them in school and succeed, or are we just giving them a blank check to waste their time online checking their MySpace page and Facebook excessively or playing flash-based shooter games?

If there was more focus on the practical utilization of the internets, then access can bring people out of poverty. (Nearly all research shows that literacy and rise out of poverty are directly correlated).


Posted by JMchugh, a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2008 at 9:15 am

wifi is like another other municipal system, be it power, fone, sewer, cabletv or water. It arrives at your address, then you must do something to bring it into your address. an uninformed or misinformed person would expect to have perfect reception in their building. Not possible unless the neighborhood network radio is directly outside in the PROW. another error in the original article is the concept of a node. the commonly-held description of a node is where the signal changes from optical to radio frequency...from line to rf.
Web Link
the rest are just neighborhood mesh radios, perhaps using wi-max for point to point link for the first hop from a node.


Posted by Brett Glass, a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2008 at 5:34 pm

In 1992, I left Palo Alto (where, I realized, I would never be able to afford a house that could hold me and my work) for Laramie, Wyoming, where I started the first wireless broadband Internet provider. That provider, LARIAT, started as a nonprofit community Internet, paid for by its members. Note that I say, "paid for." We realized from the very start that bandwidth, equipment, operations, etc. to provide a quality service cost money, and that there's no free lunch. Members' dues paid for the service for many years, but after awhile they were eager to see capital investment in the network -- something we could not do as a nonprofit because an investor cannot own part of a nonprofit. So, the members persuaded me and my wife to take the network private, and we have been running as a privately owned wireless ISP to this day.

This business model works. However, the business models for municipal Wi-Fi never have. They've always been analogous to "free beer for everyone..." or maybe "free electricity for everyone." Quality Internet service simply costs too much to provide to give away, and unless there are limits on who can use it -- and folks pay their freight -- the network simply becomes overloaded and unusable.

Rather than proposing to provide free Internet for all, municipalities should instead work on making it easy for private providers to use the poles, towers, tall buildings, etc. that exist in their communities to compete for citizens' business. No exclusive contracts; no playing favorites. This leads to real competition and the best deal for everyone.


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