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This comes years after varying plans and bidding proposals that didn't work: AT&T is paying for the cost of installing and operating Wi-Fi in 20 parts in the five boroughs of New York City, including the High Line, the park converted from old elevated rail lines, long abandoned. It's a several-year deal, apparently. Right not, three parks (Battery Bosque in Battery Park, part of Joyce Kilmer Park, and the rec center at Thomas Jefferson Park) have service. The rest are coming this summer.
Update: Please read the comments. Parks didn't bid this out or have an open process.
Bryant Park has long had free Wi-Fi, delivered through a series of hands, and it's been an apparent success as part of the terrific revitalization of a public space that was once abandoned to drug deals.
Karl Bode at DSLReports reminds us that last September, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision were planning to install Wi-Fi in 32 parks as part of their cable franchise extension, offering just 10-minute sessions up to three times a month before charging 99¢ a day. It's unclear where these two plans intersect.
Ah, this brings back memories: Cast your mind way way back to 2006, when Tempe, Ariz., was on the cutting edge of municipal wireless systems. The city, which already had its own wireless ring for city backhaul, put out a tender for a firm to provide a combination of public and private services. Neoreach won the bid, and built some of the network out as it shifted through names and subsidiaries, winding up with Gobility as the ultimate owner when the network failed. (Gobility had oceans of issues unrelated to this network.)
While the network hasn't been operational even in part since 2007, the gear was left all over town. Two-thirds of the access points were owned by a leasing firm, Commonwealth Capital Corporation (CCC). If the nodes were abandoned, Tempe alleged, then Tempe would be granted ownership. CCC disagreed, because it hoped to sell the system with the nodes still in place.
CCC sued to have the nodes returned to it after ridiculous attempts were made by it to sell the network. The case ran from Feb. 2009 to March 2011, when the company dismissed its own lawsuit. Tempe, meanwhile, had sued CCC for the rent due on pole usage for the period when CCC was trying to sell the gear. Tempe prevailed in court for $1.8m and ownership of the hardware.
The money assuages the fact that the 4–5-year-old hardware is likely nearly unusable. It should be mostly Strix Systems gear, which appears to still be a going concern, even though its "news spotlight" page refers only to events in 2007. There's likely some backhaul equipment from other makers.
This is the last gear hanging that I'm aware of from the olden days of 2006–2008 that isn't in active use, such as the network in Minneapolis.
By the 2012 Olympics, Boris Johnson pledges full outdoor Wi-Fi network: The Wifi London project, about which I have heard nothing before today, will result in "every lamppost and every bus stop" having Wi-Fi nearby. Twenty-two London boroughs have signed on to the plan that would rely on existing poles to provide power and lighting.
Excuse my knowing laugh. From the dozens upon dozens of municipal networks that I followed over years, the biggest problem was getting power to poles. In some cities, like St. Louis, this proved impossible because lights were controlled for time of day through large master switches; there was no 24-hour power at the pole. In other cities, poles had ancient wiring, or were incapable of having additional juice pulled. In a very few cases, poles were available in most places with enough power. Very very few cases.
The network in Saskatchewan isn't exhaustive: A government-run free Wi-Fi network across parts of three Saskatchewan cities that cost C$1.3 to launch and C$340,000/yr to operate is patchy and inconsistent, according to the Star Phoenix, a local paper. Province officials are generally happy with the performance, which they describe as being useful for "light occasional use." The paper drove around to see how well it worked across Saskatoon, and found dead zones, places where the network came and went, and too weak a signal indoors. In a few areas, the service worked quite well.
A soap opera in St. Louis comes to an end: A provider in St. Louis County outside the main city that promised a novel use of proprietary Wi-Fi gear to build a network across a number of smaller towns is shutting down its operations. I recall hearing about what was once called Network 1 when a reporter from a St. Louis paper called me a few years ago for a sanity check on what the firm was describing. It wasn't unreasonable, but I couldn't figure out why the firm was promoting the proprietary nature of the hardware employed for backhaul. I thought it was likely an inexpensive mesh or long-haul system. The founder left, the firm changed its named twice, and it only built service in one location, O'Fallon, where it has "several hundred customers," out of 15 intended.
Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa region in Israel plots a wireless trial: No business model. No advertisers signed up. Cost estimated at "zero" due to advertising. No ISP chosen. Sounds promising.
One of the legacy muni-Fi networks will have new (or no) owners: Esme Vos writes at MuniWireless.com about the current state of the Riverside, Calif., network operated by AT&T. The network was the first and only bid by AT&T with MetroFi, which was unable to complete that network along with many others, and which shut down in 2008. In Riverside, AT&T kept up much of its end of the bargain, hiring Nokia Siemens to complete the network, which Vos says only reached 77 percent of the city. (One expects there's no SkyPilot gear left in place, either, but I don't know that for sure.)
The network has 20,000 daily users out of a population of about 300,000 (in 2000); the county has over 2.1 million residents.
AT&T wants to give the city the network at no cost, but the city is facing revenue shortfalls like the rest of the country (and most of the world). It's trying to get a federal grant.
Of the networks originally built in part or whole by EarthLink, Kite, and MetroFi, only a handful remain in operation. Philadelphia recently moved to take over the remains of the network there from an interim firm that had been planning to build out a variety of access services.
Minnesota Public Radio looks at what WiMax may do to the country's only successful for-fee city-wide Wi-Fi network: Brandt Williams examined whether Clearwire's WiMax service entering the Twin Cities could spell disaster for US Internet, which covers about 95 percent of Minneapolis with Wi-Fi service.
US Internet charges about $20/mo for a rate of 1 to 6 Mbps downstream, while Clear offers service for the home for $25/mo for 1 Mbps downstream up to $45/mo for 3 to 6 Mbps downstream (bursts over 10 Mbps) for unlimited use. Mobile plans are $35/mo for 2 GB of use or $45/mo (first six months at $30/mo) for unlimited use. Combined home and mobile plans are avaialble, too, at $50/mo for the fastest home and mobile service.
There's still room a value consumer in this space. I would suspect one of the typical 16,000 US Internet subscribers has considered and rejected $40 to $60 per month for bundled and unbundled cable modem service, even though that would be far faster and is generally available in the city. The same subscribers might have a laptop or iPod touch that they use for access with the same account while out and about.
Because $20/mo used to be the baseline for dial-up service, that number still has some resonance in predicting whether people will jump up to the next level. You can listen to the story right here:
Google is giving the small Oregon town $100,000 to fund a Wi-Fi network downtown: Why? Because Google has a massive data center in the city, which is close to hydroelectric sources, and where Google has contracted (like many major firms with data centers) for vast amounts of energy at low, low rates. The center reportedly employees under 100 people to run a large number of servers and other equipment
Interestingly, one of the requirements of the grant, which the city council just voted this week to accept, is that the city may not filter content.
Google also operates a network in Mountain View, Calif., its headquarter town, and still sponsors a few park and city square networks. The company at one point was poised to underwrite free Wi-Fi in San Francisco and apparently in other cities, but the collapse of city-wide Wi-Fi paid by private firms for public access erased that possibility.
There was a time five years ago when you were legally obliged to mention Chaska, Minn., when writing about city-wide Wi-Fi: The small town was an early entrant into the idea of dealing with local broadband market failure to let residents jump from dial-up to a semblance of high-speed Internet. In some cities, like Lompoc, Calif., which launched efforts around the same time, cable and telco firms stepped up and made the Wi-Fi networks nearly unnecessary for indoor use.
Chaska.net still operates, however, although the operation is servicing debt and not accruing capital, which is the goal; current expenses aren't mentioned, but the setup costs were $3.3m, including $1m in fiber expense, the article in the Chaska Herald reports.
The network doesn't deliver just Wi-Fi in the city, but is part of a backbone that brings point-to-multipoint wireless broadband to smaller towns nearby, and to 36 business customers in town.
Chaska has a fairly stable base of about 2,100 subscribers, the article notes, expecting just a net add of 60 per year in the future. That's a huge uptake for a town that in 2000 has 24,000, which likely means 5,000 to 8,000 households. Subscriptions would likely be higher except the ability to get a signal isn't uniform across the town, which is true of all wireless systems, but Wi-Fi's low power limits makes it particularly susceptible.
Chaska was used by Tropos as its poster child when that firm was out trying to persuade firms and cities that high-quality "mesh" networks could be built for indoor and outdoor service using 20 to 25 nodes per square mile. Chaska never lived up to its marketing in those early days, and, Tropos at one point (apparently at its own cost) swapped out all the initial nodes installed in the city. I wrote rather heatedly about what I viewed as misleading information provided back on 12 June 2006.
It's nice to see that things worked out in Chaska. I should also note that this story, written by a local reporter, is the best example of local journalism looking at these sorts of networks that I've read in six years of covering municipal and metro-scale Wi-Fi.
Portland, Ore., was the big win for MetroFi, back in the day, the flagship network that never was: MetroFi was unable to make its gear and business model work in a way that let them move forward, and I won't rehash the process that led them to exit the working world. However, the company left behind hundreds of SkyPilot distribution and backhaul nodes, and a $30,000 bond to remove them. The city estimates the cost will be double, and the equipment has nearly no resale value.
Mike Rogoway of the Oregonian reports that the first batch of removed gear will be handed off to Personal Telco, one of the longest-running community wireless efforts in the world, which operates a variety of free service around town. The group hopes to be able to repurpose the nodes, but I'm dubious. SkyPilot's end-point nodes had two radios, one designed for 2.4 GHz 802.11g access, and the other at 5 GHz to work with its unique point-to-point system.
(SkyPilot's approach had 8 antennas in a sectorized in its backhaul units that used GPS time synchronization to make precise, very high power point-to-point connections at scheduled intervals. One backhaul node could deliver narrow extremely high-signal power zaps of wireless communication in 8 directions seemingly "at once.")
This means that the Wi-Fi nodes have to be served by SkyPilot backhaul devices, which in turn require precise orientation and placement along with back-end management software, which was typically licensed separately.
Personal Telco suggested to Rogoway that it might disassemble them for parts, but four-year-old gear that's designed for this particular a purpose probably has little of interest, even for free.
The Miami Times finds that a network that cost $5m to build still has spotty coverage: The contract was signed with IBM in 2006, and the network only recently came online. While it has municipal purposes, it's been pushed as a way for the public to get free Wi-Fi. The reporter wasn't impressed in his attempts to gain access.
The price tag is pretty high unless there were commensurate municipal purposes in which costs were conserved and service improved, and that doesn't appear to be the story the city is telling. The city's project manager says "16,500 people have signed up to use" the network, but as we've seen with other large-scale networks, it's never quite clear whether that's unique devices, sessions, etc. "Users" is often used broadly.
Finally, I missed the mayor of Miami Beach's badly researched comment back in October, reproduced here: "We are the first in the country to have a free citywide hotspot." Except neighbor St. Cloud, Florida, and Mountain View.
Minneapolis becomes the largest city in the world with a privately operated, near total coverage Wi-Fi network: The network, built and run by US Internet, claims 16,500 private subscribers. The company was able to secure advance fees from the city against future services provided, services which have not yet been built. The company was able to reach 99.5 percent coverage, it says.
This year, services will be tested, such as linking police cars and fire vehicles to the Wi-Fi network. The city's unused prepayments will be rolled over.
US Internet told the Star Tribune the network cost $20m to build. It uses BelAir network equipment, which was the same choice made by Cablevision, which is building (or perhaps has already built) the largest single-operator coverage area of Wi-Fi in the world. Unlike US Internet, Cablevision offers Wi-Fi access only to its broadband cable subscribers.
(At one point, there was a similar, larger network being built in Taipei, but I believe it was abandoned. There's no information in English that I can find, nor linked in Chinese. The last update on Taiwan's government page about this private project was from early 2006.)
Dana Spiegel posts an exchange with a writer at the Heartland Institute, wherein the writer starts with a bias and then stoops to insults: Oh, lordy, our friends at the industry-funded (but-we-won't-disclose-who) Heartland Institute are trying to explain how evil municipally funded free Wi-Fi is again. I thought I was back in 2005, again.
Given that Miami Beach and St. Cloud, Flor., are now just about the only free city-wide Wi-Fi funded by a city in the US, I don't see the urgency in Heartland trying to explain why it's an evil entitlement.
The Heartland "reporter" (hrmph) tells Dana Spiegel that in St. Cloud "the City Council tried to shut down their free WiFi service because of the expense but stopped that initiative after residents who could not pay for their own Internet access protested loudly. In that vein, do you foresee municipal WiFi networks like Miami Beach’s at all becoming another entitlement program for Americans?"
That's some myopia you've got there! St. Cloud residents of all stripes, not just those who "could not pay" for Internet service--that's bought-and-paid-for thinktank code for "poor and probably African American because they're poor"--were interested in keeping the service alive. The city council and mayor responded to the outpouring of interest, and funded the network further as a result.
We last tangled with the Heartland Institute in depth in 2005. I wrote a piece called "Sock Puppets of Industry" (1 February 2005) that spelled out undisclosed funding and other conflicts in a report issued on municipal broadband that was riddled with errors.
The Heartland Institute continues to claim that it is "not affiliated with any political part, business, or foundation," which continues to beggar my imagination as a statement. The institute has concocted ever more elaborate explanations as to why it doesn't disclose donors, which are known to include major firms in industries about which the institute produces anti-regulation reports. Corporations and foundations provide 89 percent of funding (per the institute's 2009 report), with corporations making up 13 to 16 percent. The foundations are the usual suspects that push money to thinktanks to create research and reports that allows affiliated companies and institutions to cite data as independent of the funders.
All you need to know about Heartland may be encompassed in the Sock Puppets post, in which I note that (at the time) Heartland had a Philip Morris executive on its board, even as it wrote reports and a book denying peer-reviewed scientific and economic analysis of the societal costs of smoking. In the comments, Heartland's head denied that such an executive was on the board, despite the fact that the Web site listed that executive and his affiliation.
It goes around and around and comes out there: The city of Philadelphia has announced its intention to purchase the Wi-Fi network from Network Acquisition Company (NAC), a firm that itself acquired EarthLink's in-progress network for a song with a promise to build it out and to change its name from the placeholder it chose. Apparently, the placeholder turned out to be correct: the firm acquired the network and operated it, but it seems little else emerged in its plans, made before the massive economic downturn. NAC took control of the network in June 2008 (see "Eleventh Hour Rescue for Phila. Network.")
The Philadelphia Business Journal seems to have but sketchy details about the deal, which would commit the city to spending $17m from 2011 to 2015 (fiscal years) to expanding its core fiber network and integrating and expanding the Wi-Fi network. The wireless network would be used for municipal and public safety purposes, as well as limited public place Internet. Phila. told me years ago that it spent millions each year on leased digital lines from telecom; many cities have built fiber networks and rings to conserve that cash in house while boosting network speeds often by a factor of 10 to 100 times the leased line rate.
Update: The Philadelphia Inquirer has more information. The city will pay NAC $2m, which is roughly the same amount that NAC paid EarthLink and other parties. The $2m from the city will comprise $1.5m from homeland security grants and $500K from public-safety funds.
In this case, the city claims a $9m cost conservation against $17m in spending; the operating savings don't include increased productivity or other measurable improvements outside of pure network operation costs, however.
This is a far cry from Philadelphia's 2004 plan to give free Internet service to everyone via Wi-Fi; EarthLink's goal for Wi-Fi at subsidized and dial-up prices to residences through outdoor transmitters; and NAC's plan to mix free, fee, and business services of varying kinds to make a go of it.
Philadelphia is now trodding the path that many other cities have followed in the last five years, which is focusing on government efficiency through cost conservation and using Wi-Fi and public safety wireless as an adjunct to core wired networks.
The town of Swindon, England, will provide free Wi-Fi to residents: The project is estimated at just £1m to install 1,400 access points around the city, which seems rather inexpensive--could that possibly include installation, backhaul, network operations, and bandwidth? The network is described as a mesh, but it's hard to know what that means these days, as the term is used too loosely.
Usage will be limited on the free service, but that hasn't been described in any of the reporting. An hour a day? 100 MB a month? A 20 Mbps (noted as 20 MB in the Guardian story) service will be available as an upgrade, but I don't know of any Wi-Fi network capable of delivering 20 Mbps on a distributed basis. 20 Mbps is tricky enough in the home over any distance.
Color me dubious about the particulars. The Web site for the service, dubbed Signal, is unpopulated. International coverage of this story is breathless, quotes from the press release, and doesn't ask anyone from the company or elsewhere about how this could possibly work.
At least the firm plans to use WPA encryption, according to its press release. The company also recommends using a "wireless" repeater, which means there's a hidden $50 to $150 cost in obtaining such an item to pull the signal in from outside.
The network will apparently be up and running by April 2010, with an initial phase launched in December 2009. Funds will be used from both public and private sources, and a local businessman's firm, Digital City UK, will handle the buildout. The Swindon town council owns 35 percent of the venture.
I don't see how the stated goals, costs, deployment, and service is feasible. I'm looking forward to further details.
The story in Colorado is that the Longmont network will keep operating under private ownership: Perhaps those of us who write about Wi-Fi, and especially large-scale networks, have followed Longmont too closely, but the city has a long-running network and hit all the high notes in the municipal wireless symphony. The latest of three providers to operate a Wi-Fi network failed to pay taxes and utility pole leases, and the city put up a ballot measure to try to take over the network. The measure failed in part because the city wasn't allowed to explain fully what it was doing due to Colorado law prohibiting municipal lobbying for this sort of measure.
However, there's a happy ending. The county in which Longmont is found auctioned off DHB Networks' gear; it was purchased by the owners of RidgeviewTel and StarNet. RidgeviewTel has been operating the network since DHB's equipment was seized in September by the county.
The company sees 1,900 unique devices connected to the network in the afternoon and early evening, which shows the utility of the network for its users. The firm will layer WiMax on top of Wi-Fi in just a few weeks.
Coshocton County, Ohio, shutters a hotzone because of a movie download: The local paper reports that Sony Pictures notified OneCommunity, which operates the county's one-block hotzone, that a movie was downloaded "illegally." The article doesn't provide enough details to know whether this was via BitTorrent, a pirate movie site, or other means. It's possible it was a perfectly legal download that Sony doesn't like, too, such as a transfer of a movie for personal use or a legal movie download that was mischaracterized.
In any case, it doesn't seem that Sony nor the MPAA (which is mentioned in the article but didn't apparently contact the county at all) asked for the network to be shut down. Further, there's no legal basis on which to close down a network because of illegal use. The common-carrier and other ISP laws protect such operations, even though if Sony had filed suit the ISP might have had to produce certain logs and other connection records.
My friend Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing went with the knee-jerk headline: "MPAA Shuts Down Entire Town's Muni WiFi over a Single Download," when it wasn't a whole town, the MPAA wasn't apparently involved, and the shutdown was by the county, which didn't have to do so. The MPAA told MediaPost that it "didn't ask for the network to be shuttered."
What's likely here is that the county overreacted, and decided to limit any potential liability immediately, even though no sanctions or actions were apparently threatened by Sony (or the MPAA). In similar cases, private and governmental bodies have simply said, "Whatever" or turned to groups like the EFF for support.
Update: The network was brought back up on Friday. Sony received a number of complaints about its actions, despite not actually having asked the county to turn its network off. Sony reportedly emailed the county, and must have said it wouldn't pursue any action, which led to the county turning the network back on.
This isn't a referendum on cities running Wi-Fi, but shows how freaked out incumbents still get over muni-Fi: Longmont, Colo.'s independent Wi-Fi service provider was struggling, and the city wanted the ability to take over the service should the company fail. However, a variety of Colorado laws required the city to be vague and not spend money saying exactly what it planned to do. Cable operators spent hundreds of thousands to defeat the measure, which implied that the city could run a triple-play system, even over fiber.
Now that the election's over, all the details have come out, and the city may take another go at it. About 400 to 600 citizens will lose Internet access.
Craig Settles writes about Comcast's attempt to prevent Longmont, Colo., from operating a Wi-Fi network which has defaulted to city ownership: Comcast's sock puppets and trade association have poured at least $150,000 in a campaign to prevent the city of Longmont from operating a Wi-Fi network that a private firm built and was unable to operate. Settles notes that Longmont is also sitting on top of a fiber network that it built, and then was legislated away from being able to use. Sigh.
Flashbacks to the 2005-2006 era, for sure. The argument has been made that Longmont is usurping private enterprise by taking over the network, instead of, as has been proved elsewhere, building demand for broadband and also providing it in places that incumbent carriers are unable to. City-wide Wi-Fi data rates are well below typical cable and most DSL service rates, and wired services tend to be more reliable. Customers who use a free network either would never subscribe to wired fee-based service, or, after tasting the sweet juice of YouTube and others, decides that 5 to 20 Mbps downstream would be even more succulent.
Settles notes that the hoary arguments that cities can't effectively run broadband networks are easily refuted by examples of governments that, by building such networks, rapidly conserve their data communications costs, and then save taxpayer dollars while often expanding service and efficiency. (Settles consults with cities on this topics, but his facts are public.)
The real issue, of course, is whether Comcast and other incumbents can compete against public entities. And the answer is, of course. But those firms have to become a better deal, improve customer service, and charge less--just as they do whenever they are in a truly competitive market with multiple effective broadband providers. Cities have no inherent advantage on networks that are built right, because outside of a few free Wi-Fi networks, cities charge a market price that's typically not cheaper than a competitive broadband price for the same level of service.
What Comcast should have done, were it cleverer about this matter, was offer to take over the Wi-Fi network, build it even better, and offer limited free service to all residents and visitors (maybe an hour a day), unlimited service for the city, and unlimited service for all its subscribers. This would motivate more people to sign up with Comcast or remain customers, and would benefit the city as a whole. $150,000 would have bought a lot of Wi-Fi.
The free network that covers the small city of St. Cloud, Flor., is still in jeopardy: The Orlando Sentinel looks at how St. Cloud residents use the free network that's paid for by the city. Earlier this year, the city council looked to shed the $30K per month paid for service and upkeep due to a shrunken budget. Residents begged the city to continue the network, and the council was able to extend service until January, at which point all bets may be off.
The network is the only publicly funded free Wi-Fi network in the United States that attempts to cover a city and provide indoor access. Previously, I had stated more broadly (and incorrectly) that it was the only city-wide free network, but Phil Belanger among others reminded me that the Google-run Mountain View, Calif., network has a long history of free operation as well.
Still, there are only a handful of public access networks of any kind that cover cities. Miami Beach, Flor., apparently this week just got its act together after years of work to push out city-wide service, with the intention of covering 70 percent of indoor users and 95 percent of outdoor locations with free service. We'll see how that pans out.
Back in St. Cloud, the biggest impact of the network's potential disappearance is on, as usual, the city's most vulnerable population, including Del Miller, who relies on the service for personal contact and vital communications, and Patricia Bennett, who has no car, and would otherwise be unable to keep up her job search and maintain unemployment benefits.
Vulnerable and unemployed citizens might be better served by creating a public-private partnership with the city kicking in some money for subsidized home service, or working with incumbent carriers for low-income services. AT&T, I believe, still has a $10/mo. low-speed DSL offering which would easily be as fast as whatever the St. Cloud network delivers over Wi-Fi.
When city-wide Wi-Fi was first proposed, one of the key reasons was a lack of affordable access for all residents. While the availability of broadband has improved, its affordability has not.
Residents of St. Cloud, Flor., made the case for continuing the city's free network: St. Cloud was one of the first, and remains one of the only free city-wide networks (sorry for ignoring you before, Google and Mountain View, Calif.). Dozens of residents attending a city council meeting yesterday, the Orlando Sentinel reports, demanded the service continue. They were angry!
The council opted to extend public access for four months, revisiting the issue in 60 days to see if they can come up with the budget. The network costs about hundred of thousands of dollars a year to operate, but only the public portion would be shut down, as the municipal-only side apparently justifies its cost. [link via MuniWireless]