Tag Archives: Muniwireless

Wireless City: Can all New Yorkers Get Connected? Event on Mar 8 @ 6:30pm

On Tuesday, March 8, from 6:30 – 8:00PM, I will be appearing on a panel at the Municipal Arts Society’s Wireless City: Can All New Yorkers Get Connected? event. The discussion will be an engaging discussion with a number of experts in the field of Broadband and Wireless in NYC and the north-east.

Internet access, once a luxury, is quickly becoming a key livability issue for New York. Other cities have tried to implement free wifi access to all of their citizens, but with varying success. The Municipal Art Society will present a panel of experts who will explore some of the models employed, as well as the challenges in making wifi access a priority.

Together, they will address the following questions:

  • What would expanded wireless access enable New Yorkers to do better, more efficiently, and more cost effectively?
  • What is the difference between muni-wireless (as was done in Philadelphia and other cities) and public space wireless (as offered in NYC and in Montreal)?
  • What are the roles of the city government, BIDs and other organizations, and private/non-profit developers in providing free wifi?

There will also be a Keynote given by Rachel Sterne, NYC’s Chief Digital Officer, and an Introduction given by one of our favorite people, City Councilmember Gale Brewer.

Be sure to register at http://wirelesscitymasnyc.eventbrite.com/

Diamond Consultants to publicly brief Broadband Advisory Committee regarding the Bloomberg Administration's plans for bridging the digital divide

I just received this notice from a contact at the City Council. Everyone should attend if they can (unfortunately I won’t be able to go) and report back.

Very curious too that:

(a) The report from Diamond Consultants is only about the digital divide, since I was under the impression that the research was supposed to be about a lot more than just the digital divide, and

(b) This is being presented as “the Bloomberg Administration’s plans”, because I would think that the Bloomberg Administration would present their own plans and not have a consultant present for them, and further their “plans” should be based in part on the findings of the Broadband Advisory Committee, who’s whole point of existing is to bring a different perspective and set of expertise to any “plans” that are created.

Overall, I’m not too hopeful for what will be presented. I suspect it will be much too little, and frankly at least 6 months too late. This administration inexplicably has shown no spine for dealing with internet and network access issues and tends to kowtow to Verizon and Time Warner Cable. But, maybe, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

CITY HALL – On Wednesday, July 30th at 11:00am there will be a briefing from the Mayor’s Office and Diamond Consultants for the Broadband Advisory Committee regarding the Bloomberg Administration’s plans for bridging the digital divide in New York City.

The Broadband Advisory Committee was established in 2005 with the passage of Introduction 625-A creating a joint public broadband commission to advise the Mayor and the City Council of New York on how the resources of City government can be used to stimulate the private market so that residents and businesses of New York City have more options in terms of high-speed Internet access. The goal of the committee is to educate the general public about broadband and the newest communication technologies, and to give New York City residents the opportunity to comment on how the digital divide in New York City can be closed. To support these efforts the Broadband Advisory Committee has held public Broadband Hearings in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. The Committee will hold its fifth and final hearing in Staten Island this fall.

Diamond Consultants was hired by the New York City Economic Development Corporation to determine the breadth of the digital divide in New York City and develop programs and initiatives to provide greater digital inclusion for all residents. Chris O’Brien, a Partner in Diamond’s Public Sector practice, will be detailing Diamond’s findings and its recommendations for the City’s next steps.

The meeting will take place in the Committee of the Whole Room, City Hall, New York, NY on Wednesday, July 30th at 11:00 am. This is a public meeting and all are welcome to attend. For further information please contact Kunal Malhotra, Director of Legislation & Budget, 212-788-6975 or Kunal.Malhotra@council.nyc.gov.

Earthlink Leaves Philly, Network to Go Away

Earthlink today announced that they are discontinuing their Philadelphia muni-wireless network. Apparently, the company has been trying to work with the city and Wireless Philadelphia (the non-profit formed by the city originally to manage the Wi-Fi network) to transition the wireless network assets and maintain its operation.

Those discussions have fallen apart, and now Earthlink has notified customers that its decomissioning the network entirely, and removing all of the equipment.

So the poster-child of Muni-wireless is now back at square one.

Josh Breitbart has good coverage about the happenings in Philadelphia, and through New America Foundation released an excellent report on the subject, “The Philadelphia Story: Learning from a Municipal Wireless Pioneer”.

What does this say about muni-wireless in general?

Certainly, Philadelphians will need to find alternative broadband options, and the free public-space hotspots will be going away, taking away a valuable public resource for the city.

But the single most important lesson from this experience is that single-source solutions for muni-networks are a bad idea. If Wireless Philadelphia followed their founding purpose instead of being tempted into a devil’s bargain with Earthlink to hand over the entirety of the network to the company, the story today would be very different. Wireless Philadelphia, which would have owned the network and contracted out its building and operations, would merely need to find a new partner to take over those roles. The city’s network would continue on, and users would have experienced few, if any, hiccups in service.

Instead, the network will now be disassembled and all of the work done over the past few years by the non-profit was for naught. People currently using the network (including a number of low-income families) will be left without a broadband connection, and Wireless Philadelphia will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with an alternative solution for bridging the digital divide, a process that will likely take months, if not years.

Contrast Philadelphia with Boston’s approach. In an insightful report, the Boston Wireless Task Force sketched out a plan for creating 2 competitive marketplaces that will drive the creation of the city-wide muni-wireless network. On one side, a number of infrastructure providers will all provide last mile networks, each within a different part of the city. Those networks will all wind up funnelling thorugh an network exchange managed by the Wireless Boston non-profit. On the other side, ISPs (and any other organization) will be able to purchase transport on the last-mile wireless network at competitive prices, and provide customers with a choice of companies from which to purchase retail wireless ISP service. Enabling all of this interconnectivity are standards-based hardware and software interfaces, and common routing and management interfaces.

In Boston, if an infrastructure provider exists the business, another company can step in an take over the operations of that part of the network–one that is likely already providing service in another part of the city. If an ISP decides to stop reselling the wireless network, there will be other ISPs who can provide service.

Looking back, its hard to miss the fact that Philadelphia chose the worst path. They had the option, early on, of taking a more Boston-like approach, but instead opted for a short term political win at the expense of a lasting solution. In reality, Philadelphia’s muni-wireless network, if they choose to rebuild it, will likely cost even more than it would have if they took a more progressive approach from the beginning. And its not lost on anyone that Philadelphia’s Wireless Task Force recommended a more competitive and holistic approach similar to (though different in certain ways) Wireless Boston’s current approach.

Ethos Wireless Masters of the Muni-Verse Challenge

The Ethos Group announces our first Masters of the Muni-Verse Challenge, a contest to identify and share the best free online resources available on municipal and community broadband with fabulous prizes.

Send us your recommendations for the best freely available municipal broadband resources by filling out our online entry form at http://www.ethoswireless.com/mastersofthemuniverse. We’ll choose the top 100 and make them available to everyone — Select Muni-Verse Master entrants will win fame, glory, travel funding, and chocolate. Your suggestions will help shape The Ethos Group’s upcoming Municipal Broadband Online Resource Center and Toolkit. Contest entries must be received by April 23th, 2007 — so take a break from taxes and for a chance to win some chocolate and travel!

Selected Masters of the Muni-Verse Receive:

1st Prize. Complimentary registration and $500 travel stipend for the International Summit for Community Wireless Networks May 18-20, 2007 at Loyola College in Columbia, Maryland (www.WirelessSummit.org) and a half-pound box of fair trade organic hand-made chocolates delivered to your door from http://www.luckychocolates.com.

2nd Prize. Complimentary registration and $250 travel stipend for the International Summit for Community Wireless Networks May 18-20, 2007 at Loyola College in Columbia, Maryland (www.WirelessSummit.org) and a half-pound box of fair trade organic hand-made chocolates delivered to your door from http://www.luckychocolates.com.

3rd Prize. A half-pound box of fair trade organic hand-made chocolates delivered to your door from http://www.luckychocolates.com.

What is a “resource”? Resources are broadly defined and open to your interpretation but may include: articles, blog posts, educational materials, organizing tools, municipal documents such as task force report, original research, white papers, presentations, maps, graphs, analysis tools, websites, critiques, or even other resource lists.

What topics are the Ethos Group looking for? Ethos is looking for useful tools for community organizers, decision-makers, implementers, and residents and may span (but are not limited to) topics such as: case studies, business models, technical information and comparisons, digital inclusion initiatives, rural connectivity, public health and safety, disaster response, policies and governance, do-it-yourself networking, as well as more general information on broadband and how it works.

How do I win? Ethos Group staff will select the winners from among completed entry forms. The more resources that you share with us, the higher your chance to win.

More contest details, rules, and fine print can be found at http://www.ethoswireless.com/mastersofthemuniversedetails

Correction for "Google Sponsors Bryant Park Wi-Fi" Story

To whom it may concern at the Heartland Institute,

In your story, “Google Sponsors Bryant Park Wi-Fi”, published in the November issue of IT&T News, Mr. Steven Titch makes a number of factual mistakes.

Specifically, NYCwireless (the correct name and spelling for our organization) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed and run by volunteers from the New York City metropolitan area. We have never had any affiliation with the New York City government, nor were we formed by the city. We are a wholly independent organization.

In addition, Bryant Park is a privately operated and funded park. The Bryant Park Restoration Corporation has received a license from the NYC Parks Department to run the park, and its operations are wholly independent from any involvement and policy of the NYC Parks Department. The NYC Parks Department, and indeed the entire NYC government, has never had any involvement in the creation, operation, or funding of any of the dozens of free, public wireless hotspots built by or in conjunction with NYCwireless, including Bryant Park, Union Square Park, City Hall Park, and South Street Seaport, to name a few.

Your conclusion that “Bryant Park offers more evidence that cities cannot operate free Wi-Fi networks” is specious and groundless at best.

I appreciate your posting a correction to the errors noted above.

Dana Spiegel
Executive Director, NYCwireless

The End-User Cost of Muni-networks

Also published on the Wireless Community blog

I’m a big fan of what’s going on in Philadelphia, but this article in The Philadelphia Inquirer has me thinking that maybe all of this talk about the end user cost of muni-networks is, in part, wrong.

One way that most Community Wireless networks are different from other broadband networks is that they view their wireless service as supplemental. In other words, NYCwireless wouldn’t ever expect to be the only Internet service that a person uses. This is true for most CWNs, expecially those in urban places.

As such, our pricing models expect that usage of the networks is an add on to a user’s already expensive broadband connection. This is one way that commercial Wi-Fi is different, and why so many people are unhappy about the high prices. Is the $30 per month (or thereabout) price of a T-Mobile Wi-Fi a supplemental service fee, or is it a primary broadband connection fee?

I already pay over $100 per month for my DSL at home. I’m not going to pay another $20 or $30 per month just to get Wi-Fi periodically. And neither are most other people (discount the road-warrior types who’s businesses pay for their supplemental internet fees).

We need a more sophisticated pricing model. And this is what bothers me about the Philadelphia prices. The Philly network imagines that it is the primary broadband connection for people living in the city. But what about all of the people who already have $40-$60 home DSL and cablemodems? Wireless Philadelphia should make sense for them as well, except they won’t really use it at home, just when they are away from home.

I think this is critical for the project’s success. What is the right price for supplemental Internet? I personally would pay about $5 total for all other broadband I would use outside of my home. I suspect that this pricing is about what other people would be willing to pay as well. This type of pricing model respects existing broadband service, and offers the opportunity for Philadelphia to capture more of the market. It also acknowledges that one company/organization can’t solve the universal broadband issue by itself.

Who says that I should only have 1 broadband connection? Telcos, cable companies, WISPs, and any other broadband provider must embrace this view of the market, because its the way things will be in the future.

Bruce Fein's New York Times Letter to the Editor

Bruce Fein, a former general counsel for the FCC under President Reagan, published a letter to the editor in today’s New York Times. He claims that Nicholas D. Kristof’s recent column “wrongly chastises New York for neglecting to emulate the citywide wireless networks in rural Oregon” due to far greater cost of deploying Wi-Fi in populated urban areas.

While Mr. Fein is correct in stating that Wi-Fi in New York would be more costly than in, say, Philadelphia (as I have written previously in this blog 1, 2), his claim that it would cost $1 billion is way off the mark. Yes, New York City recently put out an RFP for a $1 billion wireless network for police, fire, and emergency rescue use. This network is intended to be private and secure, and won’t likely use Wi-Fi (it certainly won’t use Wi-Fi in the normal 802.11a/b/g bands).

From where is Mr. Fein getting his $1 billion figure? According to JupiterResearch, the cost of building and maintaining a municipal wireless network is $150,000 per square mile over five years. Sascha Meinrath of CUWiN claims that a network with a density of 142 nodes per square mile would cost about $49,700. If we take these as a low and a high estimate, we wind up with a total cost for NYC between $15 million and $50 million. Even if we triple the JupiterResearch cost estimates, we don’t come even close to Mr. Fein’s number.

Furthermore, Mr. Fein’s claim that such a network would be entirely Wi-Fi is mis-informed. Such a network should use whatever wireless and wired technologies are appropriate. Wi-Fi happens to be the best solution for getting internet access over the “last 100 yards”. As for competition, New York could be the city that encourages the most R&D in wireless, if only the City created the right environment, perhaps by opening up more lightpole franchises at an affordable rate.

All of this doesn’t address the most important issue: only about 35% of New Yorkers have broadband, and only 10% of low-income families in New York City have broadband. And this is the most connected city in the country! We should be demanding that the Mayor and everyone else in our City Government address this situation! Wi-Fi, WiMax, Wi-whatever—wireline or wireless—it doesn’t matter. In fact, any viable solution will make use of all of these technologies, as well as some others that aren’t even released yet.

We shouldn’t look at this problem as being so large and costly that we can’t address it. We can start small. NYCwireless and its partners have brought free Wi-Fi to many City parks and other public spaces. And we continue to bring public Wi-Fi to low income buildings and other neighborhoods. Working together, we (and every single New Yorker) can make a difference.