Houston flips switch on free downtown Wi-Fi: Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle accidentally discovers the soft launch of the network funded by EarthLink's $5m default fee. (The fee was paid when they missed a milestone, and the firm later walked away.) The downtown area now has a limited pilot project that's free; the real effort in Houston is supposed to be at 10 housing projects and in parks where service would be used to bridge the digital divide and improve the quality of life. How, exactly, is part of what's being tested. Update: Silverman got more details from the city; this isn't being funded from that digital divide effort, and only cost $25,000, since they're already running a wireless network downtown. This free network is a joint effort of a downtown business group and the city.
Sacramento Wi-Fi plan dead: The city council has voted to terminate a contract with Sacramento Metro Connect, a group that never quite got its act together, and included Cisco, IBM, and Intel among its marquee partners. Like a similar group that was to unwire Silicon Valley, it seems the marquee names were placed there for strategic and promotional purposes only, not to figure out funding or do the heavy lifting. This should be embarrassing to those firms.
That's ASCII, not hex: An article on wardriving raises security hackles by repeating some slightly overheated statements about Wi-Fi security. The article opens with a 63-character ASCII WPA passphrase, which is later described as "hex." (ASCII passphrases in WPA can be up to 63 "printable" characters - ASCII 32 to 127 - while a hex version of a 256-bit TKIP or AES password is 64 hexadecimal digits long.) The article tries to conflate Wi-Fi attacks that led to the largest set of breaches in retail credit-card systems and wardriving, a hobbyist activity that's never been looked on very favorably by law enforcement. The sense of ennui of wardriving pioneers is pretty clear; when Wi-Fi is everywhere and generally secured, it's far less interesting. The wardriver in the article convinced the reporter that a maximum-length WPA passphrase stored on a USB drive for automatic use was the best way to go. But, really, 20 characters containing letters and punctuation and no words found in a dictionary along with changing your network's SSID (network name) provides all the security you'll ever need for a home or small business. (If you need more, deploy WPA/WPA2 Personal.)
Green Wi-Fi's Senegal efforts hit snags: The folks at Green Wi-Fi are well motivated, and they're running up against all forms of security theater and bureaucracy both here and in Senegal, where they have an active project. The San Francisco Chronicle notes the group's effort to build solar-powered, self-sustaining Internet access via mesh networked nodes. Getting devices out of the country, clearing customs in Senegal, and hooking up their solar system all hit problems they're working through. As with the One Laptop Per Child program, I see a "build it and they will come" mentality in Green Wi-Fi's mission statement: the notion that providing computing power and Internet access will result in good things, rather than an effort to figure out what good things need to be achieved, and whether computers and the Internet will assist.