Category Archives: News

Community Broadband Hearing at Columbia University on Dec. 11

UPDATE: This is a Community Broadband Hearing by Columbia University, not an FCC Field Hearing. Sorry for the confusion!

Friend Bruce Lincoln, Entrepreneur in Residence at Columbia Engineering’s Center for Technology, Innovation & Community Engagement, sent us an invite for a Community Broadband Hearing taking place next Friday, December 11 at Columbia. I’m planning to attend, and suggest those of you that fill the different roles outlined below attend as well.

If you are planning on attending, leave a comment so we can find you!

It is important that members of the local community have an opportunity to participate in the National Broadband Planning process which is currently underway in Washington.

Toward that end, I invite you to participate in an FCC Field Hearing on Friday, December 11, 2009 at Columbia University in New York. The meeting will be held in Davis Auditorium from 8:45 am until noon.

The field hearing will bring together policymakers, elected officials, not-for-profit organizations, small businesses, anchor institutions, public agencies, broadband providers, foundations, community-based organizations and community leaders, academicians, and researchers. Together we will share thoughts on how collectively we can ensure all New Yorkers have access to broadband and the educational, economic and social opportunities it can provide.

I hope you will be able to attend as a representative of your organization or constituency. To fully understand the importance of broadband access from all points of view, your participation is vital. The agenda includes a “community visioning session” where you will have an opportunity to share your thoughts, ideas, and concerns with the group.

You can confirm your attendance via e-mail to


Friday, December 11, 2009
Davis Auditorium, Columbia University
8 am-noon

8:00 Registration and Breakfast
8:45 Welcome (Bruce Lincoln, Columbia Engineering)
8:50 Opening Remarks (Dean, Feniosky Pena-Mora, Columbia Engineering)
9:00 “An Overview of the New York State Broadband Vision and Strategy” (Edward Reinfurt, Executive Director, New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation, NYSTAR)
9:30 “Vision of New York City’s Broadband Future” (Gale Brewer, Chair, Committee on Technology and Government, New York City Council)
9:40 Short Break
9:45 Practitioners Panel Session
10:15 Audience Q&A
10:30 Community Visioning Session
11:30 Wrap-up
12:00 Adjournment

Free Wi-Fi Now Available in Times Square

Our friends over at the Times Square Alliance just sent us word that their new Wi-Fi network is up and running, and will be launched today. This is a great new amenity for New Yorkers and visitors alike, offering Free Wi-Fi to everyone. So grab a coffee and have a seat in one of the new Broadway Pedestrian Plazas, and get online for free (Yahoo! is sponsoring).

Check out the press release below:

Times Square Alliance Provides New Amenity Marking the Next Stage in the Evolution of the Broadway Plazas in New York

NEW YORK, Nov. 10 /PRNewswire/ — The Times Square Alliance announced today that they have teamed up with Yahoo! to bring free wireless Internet access to Times Square. Times Square, long known as the Crossroads of the World, will also be the crossroads of the wireless world. Together, Times Square Alliance and Yahoo! are enabling you to connect within the Crossroads of the World so you can access your world and the world around you.

Whether you are accessing free Wi-Fi from your laptop or mobile phone, Times Square Alliance and Yahoo! are empowering visitors to do more with the Web so they can get more out of their experience within Times Square. Visitors gain access through a new portal that offers the latest information about Times Square events and businesses, as well as local weather and news from around the world.

“Times Square has always been a neighborhood on the forefront of creativity and technology,” said Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins. “It’s among the most plugged-in, linked up and media-saturated places on the planet. So it’s only fitting that visitors to the Crossroads of the World enjoy free Wi-Fi as the next step on Times Square’s journey to becoming a world-class 21st century public space.”

The Broadway Pedestrian Plazas have created a gathering space for the community and visitors alike, and now the addition of this new, free service further provides them with access to the level of cutting edge technology traditionally associated with Times Square.

Pedestrians on the new Broadway Plazas can sit down at a cafe table, or on Duffy Square’s iconic red glass steps, and access their email, read the review of a Broadway show they are considering, browse local restaurant menus, or simply see who’s playing at Caroline’s that evening. Locals could even use the free web access to translate conversations with interesting tourists from around the globe.

The service will be kicked off today, November 10 with a Times Square Internet Cafe operating from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. on the Broadway Pedestrian Plaza between 43rd and 44th Street, just east of Military Island. Patrons will be able to sit down in the internet cafe, enjoy a free cup of coffee and log onto the new Wi-Fi service. Tables will be provided for patrons that bring their own laptops and additional laptops will be available to visitors on a first come, first serve basis.

The Times Square Alliance expresses their appreciation to Newmark Knight Frank and Sherwood Equities for their invaluable assistance in bringing Wi-Fi to the Great White Way.

THE TIMES SQUARE ALLIANCE (, founded in 1992, works to improve and promote Times Square. In addition to providing safety and sanitation services, the Alliance coordinates many major events in Times Square including New Year’s Eve, manages the City’s busiest Tourism Center and advocates on behalf of its constituents with respect to a host of public policy, planning and quality-of-life issues.

The Invisible Politics of the Public Airwaves

Last month, as part of Breakout! – a collaborative team project that is part of the Architecture League’s ongoing Toward the Sentient City exhibit – a small group including NYCwireless co-founder Anthony Townsend gathered at The Triangle – a slice of pavement equipped with tables, chairs and umbrellas parked in between The Diner and the 14th Street Apple Store to experiment with iPhone applications for mobile work.

Of course, no experiment in mobile work would be complete without “jail breaking” an iPhone in order to enable tethering, the feature that allows one to use their AT&T phone service to connect to the Internet via a laptop computer.

When the cellular network nestled in the “mobile office kit” – a design intervention from the Breakout! project — proved to be too slow for downloading large files, Townsend switched to the Apple Store’s open Wi-Fi network.  That’s when things got interesting.  The store was blocking the file required to install tethering. (For more details, see the Breakout! session transcript).

About a week later, in a meeting with a business improvement district, I learned that Starbucks Coffee wanted to prevent free, public Wi-Fi within reach of their cafes.  It is common for Wi-Fi users to sit inside Starbucks while using a free network across the street.  While not a surprise, this added another interesting example of hidden politics over the reach of unlicensed wireless spectrum.

Like the battle over open vs. encrypted SSIDs referenced in an earlier post, there is a similar fight – albeit a nearly invisible one – over the spaces that the signals leak into and the kinds of information that can be accessed on them.

Yet, the particular geographies of Wi-Fi networks dictate that they can overlap with one another, existing simultaneously in the same space.  So, Wi-Fi is not a technology of exclusivity but rather a public commons that permeates both private and public spaces, typically without much interference.  As such, why should any individual corporation be able to dictate what signals do and do not penetrate within their walls?

In fact, the FCC ruled in Massport v. Continental that landowners are not allowed to control unlicensed spectrum.  Only the FCC itself may regulate spectrum.  Yes, this has not stopped from using their political influence to prevent nearby organizations from broadcasting free signals into their space.

Furthermore, while the few remaining providers of open networks may have a right, or even a responsibility, to control the data that passes through them in some way (a practice referred to as traffic shaping or bandwidth portioning, which optimizes networks for efficiency and speed), it seems unethical to block specific sites or specific files without full disclosure and transparency.

While it is possible to argue that such limitations are intended to prevent abuse, in some cases they are merely enforcing corporate policy.   Thus, there is a need for better technology to enable Wi-Fi sharing while controlling for abuse.  Free sharing rests on the tension between these two needs.

After all, how are users to navigate through the messy politics of the public airwaves?  Networks that shout “Don’t download that file here,” or “You should pay me there.”

While these limits are technically possible, they also push us farther down a slippery slope away from neutral networks and towards walled gardens of content.  At the same time, attempts to block content have also inspired new tools such as the TOR project that are designed to circumvent censorship.

With the increased dominance of mobile phones – which still, for the most part, rely on carrier control over proprietary platforms — as the primary portals for accessing a variety of news and information, these are critical concerns about the Internet’s future.

These issues have long been the subject of intense discussion among community wireless networks around the world.  For this reason, community groups have instituted measures such as the Pico Peering Agreement,which ensures free transit, open communication, no warranty and terms of use.

In the last decade, Wi-Fi has become widely available yet the underlying politics of the networks remain obscure.  Let us keep these invisible political geographies in mind as we embark on new territories of contention where unlicensed spectrum is concerned.

BBC Coverage of Breakout! Festival: Sentient cities may answer back

The BBC sent a reporter, Laura Sheeter, to join Anthony and me as we hosted a Breakout! Festival work session on the bus from NYC to Philadelphia. It was a great experience to actually do some collaborative Breakout! work on a bus while travelling (for those that don’t know, BoltBus has free Wi-Fi on trips between Washington, D.C, New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston), and it was particularly fun having Laura join us. We also spent the day at the great coworking space IndyHall in Philadelphia, right near the Liberty Bell. And we even were able to get some cheesesteaks (what’s a trip to Philly without a cheesesteak?)!

Sentient cities may answer back

Anthony Townsend and Dana Spiegel have spent years installing free wifi in New York’s parks, enabling people to get online almost wherever they want.
Now they are trying to encourage people to use that freedom to escape their offices, even holding meetings outdoors.

They are leading by example, working on the street almost every day while the exhibition is running, to show people that it’s easier than they think. On the day I meet them they’re in Philadelphia looking for a suitable spot, but icy winds are making things rather difficult.

Internet access, comfortable seats and tables and nearby toilets are the essentials you need to find, they tell me.

Finding shelter is high on my list, but Dana and Anthony say that’s not a problem, as there are plenty of public atria which you can work in without returning to the confines of the office.

They’ve brought with them a rucksack filled with supplies – a laptop, a wireless router and a battery-powered printer are the most hi-tech, the rest of the bag contains post-it notes, chalk, paper weights and a mini white board, not at all futuristic.

But why bother leaving the office, where you have everything you need already? “It’s about reclaiming public space and working better”, says Anthony. “Offices are good for clerical work, and that’s about it.

Cheap bandwidth in the burbs? Thank the telephone polls.

Much has been written about the cost effective high speed broadband in other countries, but not about the inexpensive high-bandwidth business broadband available in the US. Truth be told it is fairly difficult to afford more then a basic DSL line for most of the NYCwireless public wireless hotspots. But in some area’s of the country there are some choices and some excellent bandwidth at a reasonable price. In fact when looking for server hosting options throughout the tri-state area recently I found that my basement actually has some pretty good connectivity.

After housing 3 servers in a datacenter for a few years, I decided I could run the servers in-house to save money and have easier access to them for upgrades. I was previously paying about $300 a month for about 3 servers and a firewall. So, I looked into 2 ISPs that focus on my area to see what their business offerings were. The 2 ISPs are Verizon and Cablevision. I selected Verizon due to the support for rDNS (aka PTR records) which is a requirement for mail servers (Cablevision at that time did not support rDNS). The cost for this was $100 a month for 20Mbps down and 5Mbps up with 5 static IP addresses. This was back in 2006. So, I immediately started seeing a $200/month savings.

Recently, there was a need for more static IP space. So, I looked into expanding the IP range provided by Verizon, and was told to go from 5 to 13 IPs it would cost $50 a month. I would gain nothing else but IP space for $50 a month (new total would be $150/month). This is outrageous! I can understand $25, but not $50. So, I contacted Cablevision and was told the largest IP range was 5 IPs but I would get 30Mbps/5Mbps as well. The cost was $75/month and a setup fee of $46.95 which includes install and a Cisco 851 router. So, I decided it was a better deal to spend the extra $25 per month and get a 2nd circuit for more bandwidth and backup purposes. I moved the applications needing more IP space to the 2nd circuit and used the extra IPs for applications (e.g. email & backup) needing redundant circuits.

The cheapest Cablevision business circuit when I tested the bandwidth was 27Mbps/5Mbps. Which is absolutely amazing.

Business Class Pricing (about 2x what residential is)
Verizon – 20/5Mbps – $100
Cablevision – 30/5Mbps – $75

How can a suburan region offer such fast and inexpensive internet. The answer lies on the street, street poles. Street poles versus digging underground (typically urban environments) is cheaper, faster, and easier. Hence replacement of old technologies (e.g. copper, old coxial) with fiber and better equipment in non-urban environment happens faster. Thus I have 50Mbps downloads, 10Mbps uploads, and 10 static IP address for less than $200 a month.


How much would that cost with the cheapest reliable hosting provider?
$118 a month for up to a 2U server and a firewall w/5 IPs and 1TB of monthly transfers. I use a hosting provider in Dallas ( I shipped a server of mine out there. I did look into many datacenters in the NY metro area, and the cheapest was going to be about $400/month for 1/2 a rack.

How much money do you need to spend on UPS and generator if you wanted to make it more datacenter like?
UPSes are cheap, but I would stick with name brand (e.g. APC, Tripplite, etc). About $200 per 1500VA UPSes. As per generator, get a natural gas (aka liquid propane gas, LPG) powered one. Reason is non-usage doesn’t result in a “clogged” engine due to stale gas. A standard gas generator requires periodic (every 3-6 months) maintenance while natural gas do not. You can also have your LPG generator connected into your main house propane feed or tank, so no manual fueling is needed (make sure you vent it outdoors when running). Natural gas generators are about $1k+ depending on your power requirements. A recommended generator manufacturer is Champion (

How would you handle site redundancy since BGP is not supported (DynDNS, round robin DNS, etc)?

These ISPs cannot handle customer owned IPs (for BGP), so I would recommend application level redundancy. It varies on the application since some will use DNS configuration such as MX priorities, DNS failover via your DNS provider via use of low TTLs, or round robin if the client side application is smart (e.g. backup client, IM agent, etc).

What are the risks? (ice storm, severe weather, etc)
Power outages seems to be the largest risk. The Verizon FiOS circuit and modem have built-in batteries for about 6-8 hours. The Cablevision coxial circuit does not include a battery backup, so I run them using a UPS, but not sure if the field equipment for Cablevision is protected (for Verizon it is).

What are advantages?
Ability to add additional servers without any incremental cost except for power usage, ability to have gigabit traffic between servers, use of Y power adapters for use of redundant power, & ability to swap hardware when needed.

What does the TOS of both providers say about this arrangement?
Terms of Service allow for servers since these are business circuits. Including mail servers, web servers. All uses are allowed except for pornography and illegal content.