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July 26, 2006

Podcast #12: Dana Spiegel of nycwireless on NYC Wireless

Cover-5415New York City's parks will eventually be unwired: Dana Spiegel, executive director of veteran community wireless group nycwireless, spoke to me yesterday about the group's efforts to put Wi-Fi in New York parks, the challenges with that, and what's happening in Central Park. We also spoke about an RFP issued by the economic development arm of the city that will examine the state of broadband across all the boroughs and what might be done to improve access to the Internet to all residents. [40 min., 20 MB, MP3]

Transcript follows.

Glenn Fleishman: This is Glenn Fleishman, the editor of Wi-Fi Networking News. And this is Podcast #12, recorded on July 25, 2006. In this podcast I talk to Dana Spiegel, the Executive Director of NYCwireless, which is one of the oldest if... well, certainly among a very small group of the oldest community wireless networking groups in the world.

NYCwireless has done a lot of interesting projects over the years. They've always been involved in the social aspects of Wi-Fi not just the structural ones. Other groups have focused more on hardware. NYCwireless seems to always to always be taking the lead on interesting things, interesting applications that you can turn Wi-Fi to when it's available on a community wide or neighborhood basis.

So, welcome to the podcast Dana.

Dana Spiegel: Hi. Thanks Glenn.

Glenn: I'm so happy to have you here. We've been trying to have a good mix between people who are involved in the community side, the social, the political side and people from companies because obviously we can only hear so much from those in the corporate world. And they have constraints on what they say. So you have no constraints. You're your own man.

We're going to talk about a few things in this podcast, and one of the first I think we should talk about is because it's been all over, strangely all over the worldwide news. I think the idea of Central Park finally having Wi-Fi access apparently peaks everyone's interest everywhere in the world. And it's been a long process and NYCwireless is not involved in the Central Park initiative, although I know at one point years ago there was an involvement with NYCwireless and a company called Vivato that had something to do with Central Park.

But tell me, what's the issue with the parks in New York? What's the impetus behind Central Park getting unwired?

Dana: Yeah. So NYCwireless has been involved since the very beginning, about five and a half years ago, with park space and public space Wi-Fi. In fact we were one of the few organizations that really pioneered this idea. I think Seattle Wireless may be the other organization of name with respect to this, although I'm sure I'm leaving out a couple of people.

But the idea of park space Wi-Fi really shines in New York City because, and this is an arguable statement, I think more than any other city parks in Manhattan are really defining characteristics of the city. Certainly there's Central Park, but just about every neighborhood has at least a few different parks that its residents are extremely enthusiastic and passionate about.

Especially in New York City, parks really are community centers and gathering places for local communities. And especially the big parks like Bryant Park and Central Park are gathering places for lots and lots of different communities.

NYCwireless has been involved for sometime in building out park space Wi-Fi. We did Tompkins Square Park back in the beginning of 2001. We did Bryant Park, and that's certainly the most visible and notable of all of the park space wireless networks around the world. We did that in 2001 as well.

We've been actively working with lots and lots of organizations throughout New York City to build public hot spots, free hot spots in a lot of different parks. In fact we just launched one a few months ago in Brooklyn which is really Brooklyn's first free park Wi-Fi hot spot. So it's something that has long been a history for wireless networks in New York City.

And as you mentioned there's always been a fascination for bringing Wi-Fi to Central Park. Central Park is really unique. For those listeners that may have not either been to Central Park or don't know too much about it, it really is a very unique park because it is quite large and expansive given it's location on Manhattan Island.

Glenn: I had to look it up. It's 843 acres, 3.4 square kilometers or 2.5 by.5 miles. This is something that's not true in every city, but all the parks in New York and especially Central Park are heavily, heavily used. These are not showpieces with beautiful grass which people don't touch. These are places where millions of people, residents and visitors, go constantly.

Dana: That's very true and it's really one of those facts that was the reason why Bryant Park was such a great choice for bringing the first large-scale Wi-Fi network to.

Glenn: Because that was the return of Bryant Park as a real park right? That had been a place drug dealers...

Dana: It was.

Glenn: It had been abused and it was a sign of reform in New York City wasn't it?

Dana: It was. Bryant Park represents a new model for parks in New York City on a number of different levels. It's actually run by a private organization that is licensed to operate the park.

Glenn: Oh.

Dana: They actually have a contract with the New York City Parks Department to operate that park. And that type of a program is being rolled out across a few different parks in New York City and it's been especially successful for Bryant Park. And yes, it used to be that you wouldn't go near Bryant Park and nowadays you can't get into Bryant Park because it's so busy.

Glenn: [laughs] It's a lovely park, too, right next to the main New York City Public Library. It's a great little place.

Dana: It is. So getting back to Central Park, Central Park is the iconic park for New York City. It's the thing that you always see. It's like the Great Wall of China, whenever you see a photograph of New York City, you see Central Park. That is the thing that people are drawn to. And it represents something like I think five or ten percent of the land mass of Manhattan. So it actually is a very significant portion of the city geography.

So NYCwireless has for along time been thinking strategically about how we could possibly get Wi-Fi throughout Central Park. And over the last few years the New York City Parks Department has been warming to the idea of actively pursuing Wi-Fi as an amenity within New York City parks. So just like you have trees and grass and benches and walkways you'd have Wi-Fi.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: And NYCwireless was really instrumental in getting this idea out there and really delivering on this concept. And as you and I have spoken in the past, there's lots of stuff that we've done that leverages park space Wi-Fi. And we've built out just about all of all the park space hot spots in New York City to begin with.

But we do other things with these networks as well like running arts events. We ran Spectropolis a few years ago. And that was a really big deal, the first Wi-Fi arts festival. And we do other things as well.

Really the thing that might define the extent to which Wi-Fi could be employed in New York can in some ways be measured by the extent to which it can be deployed in Central Park.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: And Central Park is made up of a...

Glenn: Well, it's been pretty tricky too. If I recall correctly, I can say this because Vivato is out of business, at one point I know there was a test done where several Vivato, the early antenna manufacture... I know that several of their antennas were pointed at Central Park as part of an experiment to light up the whole part and give Vivato a big boost and my understanding is it didn't work. And even though it was early in Vivato's history, that was sort of the beginning of the end for the company. Even though it took years for them to reach that point. It showed that their antennas couldn't really deliver the spec that was being advertised.

Dana: Yeah, I think they sort of overreached on that one.

[both laugh]

Dana: Yeah, attempts have been made. In fact, this is one of those small side projects that I did, back in 2003 I did a project for Nike and actually brought and erected a small hot spot by Wollman Rink, which is an ice skating and roller skating rink at the south end of the park.

Glenn: Hmm.

Dana: So Nike has this thing called Run NYC which is a program that leads up to the New York City Marathon. They run training runs throughout the city on multiple days during the week. So you can go and meet up with the Nike team and run and train for the New York City Marathon. They do this in a couple of different cities as well.

And when they did it in New York City they came to us and they said, "We'd love to give people the ability to use our website and have a running log and be able to invite friends down from this truck that we'll have parked in Central Park."

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: And so we did that for them. It was a side project that I had done consulting for Nike. We had a hot spot which was floating around the city at various times during the week. But for a period of time, once a week, it was in Central Park. And it really was the first real Central Park hot spot that existed which was really neat. It was really cool.

So Central Park represents a lot of different dreams for a lot of different people that work in this area. But the truth of the matter is that Central Park is made up of a lot of different types of geographies and represents a very large engineering problem - how to serve it.

First of all, it doesn't work like other parks do for NYCwireless. We put up one or a few antennas and we're able to cover an entire park when we put up the hot spot.

Glenn: Right.

Dana: Central Park obviously...

Glenn: We should talk about that a little bit. I've been to a surprising number of parks in many visits over decades there. And a lot of the parks are fairly large areas of grass or they're entirely concrete like down in the Village where there's cement with little features. But they tend to be, as Manhattan tends to be in the lower part, flat. You've got unobstructed views. There are specific seating areas. So there's sort of the classic idea of a park.

And Central Park is some kind of interesting combination...

Dana: Anything but.

Glenn: Yeah. You've got a reservoir in the middle. You've got a castle. There are like little hills, not mountains. You've got giant...

Dana: The zoo.

Glenn: The zoo. There are bridges, there are underpasses, and there are the streets along each side which are extremely heavily trafficked and interesting streets with benches facing them. So you have every different kind of thing someone might think of in park, from many different cities, all in this one 800 acre space.

Dana: That's right. And plus, to say nothing about its size.

Glenn: Right.

Dana: So just given its sheer size, it's impossible to put up just one hot spot and have it cover the whole thing.

It has a secondary problem which is, even if you wanted to sprinkle hot spots throughout, there aren't that many structures in Central Park that can support a hot spot. When we talk about hot spots, we generally mean a little piece of hardware that has power and has an internet connection and is mounted on some physical pole or building or whatnot and has an antenna that points out generally in one or a bunch of different directions.

Glenn: Right. And you're dealing with features that date to like 1850 that are in the park that people might not want you to screw a bracket onto for instance.

Dana: So there's that. But there are also large spaces. There's this area called the Great Lawn. The Great Lawn is a very large grass space. And there's nothing that you could possibly put and erect inside of this area in order to support a hot spot. There's no physical structure, it's just grass.

And if there is physical structure, it's a baseball diamond that has a backstop. But the backstop has no lights, has no electricity, you can't run the DSL line there. And this is the way that most of the park is laid out.

So you have the areas around the edges of the park that may have more physical structure around them. But most of the park is just grass and large water areas and seating and whatnot. But there's not infrastructure.

So whereas in a normal park we might beam in the hot spot signal from a surrounding building or maybe we'll put the antennas on a building inside the park like at Madison Square Park or at Bryant Park. But you can't do that in Central Park.

So what the parks department has elected to do is to instead indicate seven or eight different locations throughout the park that they would want to support independent hot spots.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: So that's includes Wollman Rink, it includes the Armory, which is where the parks department actually has their offices. I believe it includes the Zoo and I can't remember where else offhand, but a bunch of other spots like that. And those spots are intended to be supported by one or a couple of different hot spots.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: They could bring in a DSL line and they could treat each of those independent spaces like its own independent park hot spot. So that's the strategy that the parks department has been using to approach this problem. And honestly I think this is the right first direction for this, certainly till we can get higher quality and more powerful antennas and higher quality, more capable mesh nodes to use as the access points within the hot spot. Until we get to that point, there really is no other way but to deploy a whole bunch of different hot spots throughout Central Park.

Glenn: Conceivably there are certain applications that people might use there too. The Great Lawn's a good case. I've see photos of it, in fact just all this stock photography that comes from the Great Lawn that sort of cracks me up, too. And there are people out there, students out there working. There's freelancers, professionals, whatever. People are sitting there with laptops and handhelds.

So you have a multitude of applications there. But in other places it might be something like voice-over-IP on a Wi-Fi phone. So it seems like by defining a few areas in which people could work they're also defining the sorts of applications that might make sense in those areas.

Dana: As a result, yeah that's true. But that's also true of most of the rest of New York City. Since there is no ubiquitous wireless network that's available in New York City, there are certain types of applications that just don't make sense.

But I think that as a starting point it does represent a good first step for the parks department, and certainly a reasonable extension of the work that NYCwireless has done building park space hot spots.

Glenn: We should step back from that, too. NYCwireless isn't involved in the Central Park project. The contract was bid out in, was it October 2004? And at that time parks said to the dismay of some that they wanted to make money off this.

Dana: That's right.

Glenn: That the winning contractor would have to pay fees and that seems to be... There seem to be some technical issues in making this happen but one of the factors that's delayed Wi-Fi Salon from getting the network up and running seems to have been that bar, actually meeting a minimum payment plus being able to fund the equipment and the service and find sponsors willing to help defer all that cost for Central Park and several other parks.

Dana: That's right. So NYCwireless has always built itself on the model of working with some local organization that provides whatever necessary sponsorship is needed to build the hotspot. We work on an at-cost basis at NYCwireless. We're a non-profit so we can afford to do so. And we have a lot of volunteers that help and a lot of people learn quite a lot by working with us to deploy hot spots.

In the case of Wi-Fi Salon the person who's running that organization, Marshall Brown, is pretty much going it alone. And he has committed to pay $30,000 per year for the right to install that hot spot.

Now that money is in addition to whatever actual support costs he might incur and equipment costs that he might incur.

Glenn: Was there a revenue split? If he was going to charge, which I think he chose not to...

Dana: He's not allowed to charge.

Glenn: Oh, he's not allowed to charge.

Dana: So there was no revenue model for this for the parks except that they're essentially charging a franchise fee to be there. They're prohibiting anyone from charging in these parks.

Dana: That's right. And frankly this is one of the limitations with the way that the parks department has maintained their view of how to deploy park space hot spots. They are of the belief that you should be able to make money via sponsorship and no one has yet proven that model.

Glenn: And this is...

Dana: In fact a lot of people have tried and failed with that model.

Glenn: Some of the parks I know have had multiple people pass through, for instance, because of that.

Dana: Uh-huh.

Glenn: Not the NYCwireless properties themselves, I realize, but their placements themselves. But some coverage I read this summer said when the parks department gave Wi-Fi Salon a kind of ultimatum and said "you've got to get your act together and get Wi-Fi service up in at least Central Park by this date or we're going to reassign the contract."

Dana: Uh-huh.

Glenn: And then Nokia has come on as an anchor sponsor for Central Park which is a terrific firm to have involvement with that. They've been involved with Wi-Fi on and off over the years too in interesting ways.

Dana: Uh-huh.

Glenn: But in the coverage of that it sounded like parks is now, because of getting feedback from City Council members, not going to be putting out new contracts that have this sort of onerous limitation because it's obviously prevented service from being rolled out as fast. Or that's the implication I get.

Dana: So, yes, generally speaking that's true. And the most recent RFP for a number of other parks that the parks department has put out did remove the requirement for payment. But it didn't really change the general tenor of the RFP. So the parks department I think is no longer expecting large lump sum payments plus revenue sharing. Instead they are expecting something. So they're standing there with their hand out expecting someone to pay them something for the right to deploy these networks. And the interesting thing is that they're really weren't too many people that responded to the RFP that was most recently put out. And in fact NYCwireless did, in conjunction with a "friends of" organization, respond to the RFP for Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, which is the park that is closest to the UN. And in fact in our response we put in a payment to the parks department of one dollar. [Editor's note: The Parks Department later imposed terms that NYCwireless rejected for the deployment--gf]

Glenn: [laughs]

Dana: So, you know, there has to be some transaction. We figured if someone donates a dollar every year to pay the parks department then that's pretty much what they'd like to do. But it's not that it doesn't come without cost because it still costs money to put up these networks and maintain them. So whatever you would pay the parks department is overhead. It's over and above the actual operational cost for running a network.

Glenn: It sounds like parks is viewing this more like, maybe you put a billboard up. You bear the costs of putting a billboard up, you find the people to put it up and thus the person who owns the billboard space should get some of the money. Where I know that NYCwireless' view has always been that this is the kind of amenity that improves the quality of the life of the city.

Dana: Yep.

Glenn: And if you're bearing all the costs as the provider, what does parks need out of it? I mean, parks may require a few resources on their part to help facilitate you getting access, but the actual costs... I mean, I always thought it was exceptional that you can get anyone to come in for free and build a network. And then on top of that to ask for money seems a little bit like saying "we're getting something for free and we want you to pay for giving it to us for free."

Dana: Yeah, exactly. Now I should say also that, to the parks credit, they are operating within the boundaries of New York City law.

Glenn: Right.

Dana: And regulations. And New York City has regulations that are probably beyond the understanding of just about any normal human being.

Glenn: [laughs]

Dana: And they're there for a reason. Whether it's a good or bad reason, they're there for a reason. And, for the most part, parks operates within those boundaries.

But I think really that this is a situation where the parks department really needs to think outside the box. They really need to reconsider what it means to be an organization that's responsible for the public spaces of New York City. And just like they maintain grass and they maintain the sanitary conditions of the park and the benches and all of that, you really have to consider now that we're living in the 21st century and everyone's online... Not everyone, most people are online. Most people deal with email. And everyone's connected. You have to consider what it really means to be a public gathering space especially for this country's most visible city. What does it mean to be a public space and a gathering space in New York City?

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: NYCwireless has really been pushing this idea, and we've seen some really good results because of it, that being a public space means living in the 21st century. It means having cell phone access. Now to the city's credit, the bridges and most of the tunnels in New York City support cell phone access.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: They support radio. So they put in repeaters there that anyone can use because the city saw this as something that is very useful to have in the public space when you're driving.

Glenn: Right.

Dana: And so this sort of falls along the same line. You should be able to get access to the wireless internet when you're sitting in a park. Just like you have a tree and you have a bench you should also be able to have Wi-Fi.

Glenn: Well this is a nice segue into the larger issue. So if you should have it in a park? Let's do the Dr. Seuss story right. Do you want it in a park? Do you want it in a cafe?

Dana: Uh-huh.

Glenn: Should you have it all over the entire city? And we were talking before we started the podcast about how there's a new report that's in the process of being prepared that's going to address New York City's role and the role of municipal, metro-scale Wi-Fi wireless data access throughout a city.

Dana: Uh-huh.

Glenn: Maybe you could tell me a little bit about that report and what that report might lead to.

Dana: Sure. So the New York City Economic Development Corporation, a month or so ago, put out an RFP to basically start off a research project that would look at the situation with broadband deployment in New York City and what New York City could do about it.

Now, I've done a lot of research into this stuff in my discussions with people and all of the work that I do. I happen to know that New York City has some of the worst broadband resources available, especially for a city that is probably one of top five cities for general bandwidth consumption in the country.

New York City has terrible broadband. I can barely get a three megabit DSL line in my apartment and I live in one of the more populous areas of the city.

Glenn: You have this in common with San Francisco apparently too. Despite being considered a modern, hip place, it's almost impossible to get DSL above 1.5 megabits per second apparently.

Dana: Right.

Glenn: Which is stunning to those of us who don't live there. I live in Seattle. In Seattle I have like 43 different bandwidth options in most parts of the city. And you think of New York. And I know that New York is built upon the catacombs and bones of many previous cities, including itself. So you have a lot of history. You have history that is affecting the ability for broadband to penetrate the city right? I mean that's part of what's going on here.

Dana: That's right. So given that New York City has terrible broadband, in fact there's some research that was done that shows that though Verizon and Time Warner would have you believe that 80 to 90 percent of the city has available broadband, which it may in fact have, the vast majority of it is... The majority of New Yorker's do not make use of broadband. So there's a really big difference between availability and uptake.

Glenn: Right.

Dana: And uptake is terrible in New York City. So it's not just the bandwidth issues. There's also issues having to do with both the knowledge and understanding of what the internet can provide and why you should be getting broadband. So this affects someone that's making a decision "should I buy broadband? Should I not buy broadband?" assuming that they already have it.

But then there's a second issue which is that New York City has a tremendous population of people that are underprivileged or live near or even below the poverty line, or even just middle class people. New York City has incredibly high costs of living. It's damn near impossible to find a studio apartment in New York City for less than $1,500 a month.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: Right? And that's a lot of money, especially for someone who's making $45,000 a year with a wife and/or husband and couple of kids.

Glenn: Right, so middle class is a very odd thing. A person who is just on the edges of middle class in New York would be considered upper class or upper middle class almost anywhere else in the country.

Dana: That's right. And so the issue is that, in addition to there being this decision of whether or not you should get it if you have it available to you, there's a pricing issue. And you cannot get broadband in New York City for less than $50 a month on average. Now Verizon has some $15 plan where you can get $15 for six months and you can bundle your cable modem costs with your cable costs. But the truth of the matter is, when you factor all the stuff out it costs about 50 bucks a month for broadband.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: And even if you have one of these good deals, for Verizon you can't get that $15 broadband without buying the $30-$40 phone. Why? You have to be a Verizon customer otherwise. You can't get the $60 Time Warner cable connection without being a Time Warner customer. So you can get these things but the price of entry into it is very high, you're going to pay at least $50 to $60 plus taxes and other charges. It's expensive. If you're trying to decide between putting food on the table or getting broadband, it's clear what the choice should be.

Glenn: Right, so it's really over $1000 a year to have broadband plus the other thing you need in order for it to be affordable.

Dana: Uh-huh.

Glenn: Conceivably as much as $1000 a year.

Dana: It could be as much as $1000. But even if it's only $600 a year that's still a lot of money. There are actually a lot of places in New York City where you can actually get subsidized computer equipment if you meet certain criteria. You can get that for under $200.

So now you're saying "ok, I can buy the computer and I can write my resume and do whatever I need on it. But I've got to pay three times more than what I paid for my computer in order to get one year's worth of internet access. And if that computer lasts me for three years, now I'm paying $1800, give or take, in internet fees and I paid 200 for my computer for those three years."

Glenn: Right.

Dana: And those economics do not make sense for people that are lower or middle class in New York City. It just doesn't. It's beyond that.

So people say "go to the library," but if you are a mother of two or three and you need to get access to the internet but you've still got to make sure that you're kids eat and do their homework, you're not going to be able to get to the library until maybe midnight. And the library's closed by then obviously.

So there needs to be something. Somebody has got to get there.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: So I've been talking about this for years, about essentially what amounts to the digital divide. And finally New York City is starting to wrestle with this issue. There are a lot of other bigger issues clearly, homelessness, getting food, drug rehabilitation. These are huge issues for cities. But this is an important one.

And they're finally starting to get it and CEC RFP is really, I hope, the start of something happening in New York City. What the CEC is really looking at is A, what the current situation is with respect to broadband. You and I just talked about this but there are actually numbers and surveys that you can do to put some real meat into this argument.

Glenn: Right.

Dana: And there are looking for that to be done. And then they're also looking at strategies around solving the issues that are brought up. The one other thing about New York City is that it is not one city.

It's actually lots and lots of smaller cities all sort of clumped together. You have five boroughs, and obviously each borough is quite a bit different. You have Brooklyn which maybe similar to Manhattan and Queens, but it's more residential and it has much larger space. You have Manhattan, which has a vertical height problem because you have a city that extends not just along the ground area of Manhattan Island but also up into the air. And then you have areas like the Bronx, which also has a lot of suburban areas. And you have Staten Island, which is very residential.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: That's just one type of demographic makeup. There are also other types of distinctions that can be made between different areas of the city. For example, there are areas of the city that are large, clean spaces. One of them is Central Park. So how do you deal with that sort of thing? If there are large parks in a community or residential area, how do deal with that when it comes to broadband access and giving people the ability to access the internet?

The schools, New York City has the biggest school district in the country. How do you deal with making things available for schools and giving schools the ability to leverage any sort of broadband solution?

You have lost of fiber downtown and in midtown. This is all the fiber-optic lines that exist in Manhattan. But there's very little of it that extents out into the outer boroughs. So how do you address and make use of the fiber that does exist while promoting the development of new fiber deployment?

Glenn: So this RFP. The RFP is being put together in order... Or is it an RFI? The upshot of this will be?

Dana: It will be to do all the research around this.

Glenn: Ah, I see.

Dana: All of these are open questions.

Glenn: Right.

Dana: That were brought up in the RFP. And the RFP was written to solicit responses that would then be engaged to do the research.

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: And to come up with some recommendations, to figure out "do we treat the entire city as a singular entity or do we split it up into neighborhoods?"

Glenn: Uh-huh.

Dana: Does the city provide a sort of a vision and a structure and cross its fingers and hope that whatever it does is going to spur private investment? Or does it actually go out and do some either investment or structure some programs to actually encourage this development?

Is it maybe the case that New York City should develop broadband capability throughout the entirety of the city? That's certainly something that's on the table. And it's worked for a number of small cities like St. Cloud where the city actually has developed the broadband infrastructure. Or maybe it will work like Philadelphia where they're going to outsource the network.

But regardless I think that the end solution is going to be one where at best the city... The city might be able to own all of its own infrastructure but I just don't thing that's realistic. Nor do I think that it's realistic to think that New York City could manage it appropriately or efficiently. So it's going to involve some private entities being brought in to do this.

Glenn: Right.

Dana: And how that will happen is really up to the results of this research.

Glenn: Conceivably there is a lot of money that could be applied toward this in different ways or collected from. So as you describe the scope... You know one of the arguments in Philadelphia was Philadelphia is in many ways is a desperately poor city and in other ways is a very affluent city. It's nowhere near as big as New York but it's got a lot of similar problems, maybe worse in terms of urban versus suburban realities.

And I know that one of the things that they have talked about as one of the driving momentums is not just that they could provide free service who can't afford to pay for say DSL or broadband, but also that they'd be transitioning people who can afford to pay for dial-up, who do want to have reasonable access but either don't have the funds and don't qualify as low income enough to use the grants that may be available to subsidize.

So free could be good if there's a way to structure that for the entire city of New York or some of the boroughs, but even $20 a month as many of the plans will charging for one megabit service, something enormously faster than dial-up that would replace the use of the phone and free people up to having better access and more services.

So it seems like there's a fairly wide range of models that could work that would both fit inside the financial structures and socio-economic structures you describe as well as to not be something that requires constant funding or grants, that might be self sustainable.

Dana: That's right. And that would be the most ideal the situation, to develop something that is ubiquitous, affordable and to understand what affordable means. We don't really even know what affordable is for broadband access. And self sustaining.

And that's really the goal of any initiative that New York City would put into place. And even though the administration here has been a little bit slow to adopt some viewpoints on this issue, it seems like things are starting to make their way through the mayor's office and people are finally starting to pay attention to this issue. I hope that this will be the first of a number of good things to come.

Glenn: Well, let me just close by reminding people who are listening, if they're in New York or they're passing through New York, that NYCwireless is an open group, and I'm looking at your website and noting that you have Andrew Rasiej, I'm sorry how do you pronounce his last name?

Dana: Rah-shay.

Glenn: Ra-shay. This is the advantage of audio. Now everyone knows how to pronounce his last name. Very interesting guy, ran for Public Advocate last year, brought up Wi-Fi and next generation or Web 2.0 services integration with the city government which I thought was great.

And I see you're going to have him at your next meeting on July 26th, which would be tomorrow night. And so people who want to attend to meetings, there's no RSVP, they're free, they're open to all and they are the last Wednesday of every month.

Dana: That's correct. And you can find out more information on our website and we also run the New York City Wi-Fi MeetUp group, so you can find us on MeetUp as well.

Glenn: Well that's great. I look forward to hearing more about all of these projects because obviously New York City can be a crucible for change. It's been interesting to me that Philadelphia took the lead on the municipal side but possibly because it is a smaller, slightly more homogenous city in the sense that they don't' have... Every city has competing interests, but I think New York City has the most competing interest of any city of its scale and nature, so maybe Philadelphia will light the way for some of the things that after being tried could then be deployed with less effort in New York.

Dana: Yeah.

Glenn: That's great. Well thank you for being on the podcast.


Dana: Thanks for having me Glenn. It was wonderful as usual.

Glenn: It's great to talk to you. And this has been Podcast #12, talking with Dana Spiegel, the Executive Director of This podcast was recorded on July 25th, 2006. This is Glenn Fleishman, the editor of Wi-Fi Networking News.