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January 25, 2012

States banning municipal wifi.

States are being pushed to pass legislation to prevent cities from offering municipal wifi, in order to preserve the current providers’ de facto monopolies. The latest are Georgia and South Carolina, because it would like be um terrible and, er, un-American to let localities experiment and maybe enter into private-public partnerships to speed more even distribution of Net access, or maybe even to view minimal Net access as some sort of public good or, well, do anything that doesn’t first of all maximize the profits of some large companies following a policy that has pushed America way down the global list of broadband access in terms of prices and speeds, because you know the Net is just used for porn and games and stuff and we have to PROTECT THE JOB CREATORS, yeah that’s it.

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May 8, 2009

Robin Chase on the smart grid, smart cars, and the power of mesh networks

Pardon the self-bloggery-floggery, but Wired.com has just posted an article of mine that presents Robin “ZipCar” Chase’s argument that the smart grid and smart cars need to be thought about together. Actually, she wants all the infrastructures we’re now building out to adopt open, Net standards, and would prefer that the Internet of Everything be meshed up together. (Time Mag just named Robin as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. We can only hope that’s true.)

The article is currently on Wired’s automotive page, but it may be moved to the main page today or tomorrow.

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March 31, 2009

[f2c] Grids and muni nets

Geoff Daily introduces a panel at Freedom to Connect. [Note: Live blogging. Unedited. Uncorrected. Incomplete. Flat out wrong. Thanks for playing.]

James Salter talks about the Smart Grid. The biggest problems on earth: Over-population and global warming. The second is a subset of the first. James at first thought Al Gore was a hypocrite, but now he’s convinced of the truth of what AG says. (James is a proud Republican.) American residential electric usage has tripled in the past 50 years, and the efficiency has gone down. (Efficiency = peak usage over average usage.) 40% of carbon comes from coal-fired power plants and 33% from cars. Obama says we should get greener by building windmills, etc. But the effective thing he’s doing is installing smart meters. Smart meters are networked. There are 140M lectric meters in the use. Only 6.7M are smart meters so far. He estimates it’d cost $2,500 per house — including fiber to the house — to lower the load factor significantly.

Q: Is fiber required for a smart grid?
A: Nope. But the apps will need more bandwidth over time.

Terry Huval of Lafayette, Louisiana tells about broadbanding the city. In 1998, the Lafayette Utilities System put in fiber for its utilities. In 2000, they were authorized to “establish a wholesale and governmental retail network.” Companies were allowed to resell access to private folks. In 2004, the city proposed fiber to home and business as its fourth utility. But then the “Local Government Fair Competition Act” passed, a bill favoring the incumbents. The Governor stepped in and negotiated a compromise. Then the private telcos successfully sued. In 2005, the public voted 62% in favor of the project. “It was looked upon as a huge benefit to local businesses.” It was viewed as being like electricity. Then, in 2006, tow unknown citizens filed suit. 2007, State Supreme Court ruled 7-0 in favor of the project. The whole process cost $3.5M. In 2009, they’ve started providing retail telecommunication services to residential and smaller business customers, at 20% less than the standard competitor. But the vision is to provide much more than basic TV and phone services. They provide the triple play for $85. For $138 you get 250 channels (including HD) and 30MB up and down Internet. Customers can build their own bundle. E.g., unlimited long distance for $31. Five cents a minute to reach much of the world. He stresses that they’ve listened to the community. So, they’ provide 100Mbps for peer-to-peer, free. “We think it opens up doors for all our citizens and businesses.” They enable Net access through your TV if you don’t have a computer. It’s limited, but they can Google… People love the service overall and consider it, proudly, to be “ours.”

Q: [bob frankston] Among the triple play, which funds what?
A: TV is the driver.

Q; [Todd of the Utopia project in Utah] Will you wholesale access to the network so that others can be ISPs.
A: No. At least not until our bonds are paid off.

Q: [brett glass] Where does Lafayette get its backbone connection?
A: AT&T and Quest, about $50-60/Mbps. It’s an over-subscription-based model. You assume you won’t have all of your sources using all of your resources at the same time.

[Terry now plays Cajun fiddle and sings. Awesome.]

Geoff Daily makes a quick announcement of a new alliance: “All Americans deserve equal access to the best broadband. The best broadband is fiber.” [I couldn’t get the URL. Sorry.]

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March 30, 2009

[f2c] Politico-Regulatory talks

[Note: Live blogging. Sloppy. Incomplete. Unchecked. Wrong. Flee! Flee!]

Chris Savage talks about “The Re-Birth of Intelligent Regulation and the Chicago School.” The Chicago School overemphasizes the value of individual thought (= “revealed preference theory”). When people make choices, that’s the best way to know what’s good for them (Chris says). But how can people know which wireless plan they want? “Empirical studies of decision making show that people don’t know what they want.” They don’t act rationally. They have trouble when there are too many alternatives, need to assess risk, etc. But, if you can’t assume that people know what they want, there’s no reason to think that the results from markets are good results. Hence, we need to regulate. If there’s no factual basis to think open competition will lead to the best outcome, regulators may have a role in shaping the outcome. But, timing matters and now is the time to make a “more citizen-friendly regulatory system.”

Derek Slater, a policy person for Google (and a former Berkman Fellow). He’s going to talk about MLab. We have all asked “WTF?” he says, especially when an app starts running badly. We don’t know what’s going on. We don’t have the tools to get the data that would help us understand that. Broadband policy needs data. mLab provides end-user testing tools. (It’s not just a Google project.) “We call it beta but that’s only because most people don’t now what alpha means.” Thirty-six servers at the moment.

John Peha, chief technologist of the FCC, talks about the “Mythology of Rural Broadband.” Myth 1: There’s less interest in broadband in rural areas. Nope. The percentage of US households with Internet overall and rural are almost the same, but rural has less broadband. They probably don’t like their Internet slow. About one third of rural households have no access to broadband of any ttype (except satellite). Myth 2: Customers are unwilling to pay the cost of the buildout. But there are spill-over benefits, affecting the community and not just the individual subscribers. Myth 3: Rural communities may not gain from the broadband they don’t have access to, but it doesn’t hurt them. Nah. “Reducing the size of a network harms those who remain.” Broadband is becoming the norm, hurting those who do not have it. Myth 4: “Government involvement in infrastructure always helps.” Nope. No “one size fits all” solution. We shouldn’t have the gov’t replicate solutions the market is doing well already. We shouldn’t assume that the market solves all problems. We’re getting some more spectrum in 2009 as the switch to digital TV kicks in, and there’s a new national broadband plan under development.

Q: [tim denton, CRTC commissioner] Expand on your point that we don’t know what market conditions will work, Chris?
Chris: We don’t know. It’s important for people, esp. regulators, to remember that.

Q: How can regulators make policy and maintain technological neutrality since technologies offer different capabilities?
Jon: Tech neutrality is a good thing to aim at.
Chris: I want to challenge that. We’re not neutral about houses that have electricity or not, or cars with airbags or not. The market won’t figure this out correctly, necessarily.
Derek: We need to set the goals and look at the data at what different technologies bring to the table.
Jon: The setting of the goals is the key part of that.

[amy wohl] I am a recovering Chicago economist. When the gov’t tries to fix market mistakes, it often introduces a lag that can create a new mistake. How can we help the gov’t make good decisions?
Chris: Elect the right people.
Derek: Infrastructure is special. That’s the message we need to be building on.
David I: Say more …
Audience: Because infrastructure is being built now but not being designed. [Tags: ]

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[f2c] Muni Wifi

[Note: All of these conference bloggings are rough notes, wrong, incomplete, poorly paraphrased, full of spellping errors, etc.]

Esme Vos begins by saying that municipal wifi is far from dead. The companies that failed at it generally failed not because they were doing muni wifi (e.g., Earthlink). She talks about some cities where it’s working. E.g., Riverside, Minneapolis, Cleveland. Philadelphia is now succeeding; they got some muni “anchor applications” and is expanding from there. About 50% of logins to the Philadelphia system are Apple products; the Phila project is not a failure. Esme also talks about Lompoc CA, which had been considerd to be a failure, but it’s been turned around.

Sascha Meinrath says his role these days is “to translate geek into wonk.” He says we need “alternative media dissemination and through these networks institute fundamental changes to civil society before it collapses under the weight of its own inequity.” [approx] Public-private partnerships have placed communities in subservient relationships to corporations. “Our very lexicon” about muniwifi revolves around ROI instead of fostering a 21st century civil society.

Ken Biba of Novarum talks about “Municipal Wireless 2.0.” His company measures wifi. What went wrong with 1.0? There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Fantasy business models and overhyped products. What went right? When there was skin in the game, it worked It worked for things like public safety, parking meters, and internal municipal communications. Wireless works as an extension to wire. (Wifi 802.11n is beginning to beat Wimax for bandwidth, he says. Wimax is about as good as 3G. [I’m probably getting this wrong.]) He says “Cellular data has doubled in the last two years.” Now getting 1000-1500kbps download via cellular.

L. Aaron Kaplan (who gave a Berkman talk last week) is giving a presentation on Funkfeuer and community wifi networks in Europe. He shows maps of mesh networks in Vienna, highly scaled, 240 roofs. Repeated in Graz, Bad Ischl, Weinviertel. The longest links are 30km. It’s also happening in Guifi.net Barclona, Djursland, Berlin Freifunk, Athens, Paris Sans Fils, czfree nework.

Dewayne Hendricks says the biggest barrier to wireless is the regulatory environment. “The tools make the rules,” he says. E.g., if you have smart radios, they’re better able to tell what’s going on than rules written on tablets. Look at what’s happening at the grassroots level. What if we went back to the original vision and made the entire spectrum open? Reality is making it harder to stop this movement. The facts are on its side. Remember Metricom? They spent a billion dollars to deploy, and where it was deployed, it was great. They put their radios on light poles. But when muniwifi 2.0 started, no one went back and learned from Metricom’s efforts in getting permits.

Q: [harold feld] How can we talk about these things that doesn’t make it sound like you have to turn a profit in a year?
Esme: Cities like Rock Hill N. Carolina said that they’re installing a wireless meter-reading service, or some such…a muni service. It was easier to get the network in…
Ken: Someone has to pay for it. Find an app where you can show real economic return.
Sascha: I’m business-model agnostic. We just need to get this done.
Isenberg: From the chat: Why don’t we use Verizon or Sprint, etc., to provide muni services, i.e., in police cars or for public safety??
Ken: It’s too expensive.
David Young (Verizon): We’re looking at new pricing models for low-capacity networks.

Q: Will the telcos resurface as worthy adversaries?
Ken: The need for video surveillance is driving the creation of high-capacity networks. You can’t do that on cellular; there’s not enough bandwidth.

Q: What about privacy?
Ken: Once you move into an Internet-connected world, you’re doomed.
L. Aaron: If you import hardware from, say, China, how do you now it’s a secure? The only solution is to build it on your own.
Sascha: Privacy and security are not mutually inconsistent, but there are problems when companise are privatizing your identity and data.
Ken: You could do end-to-end encryption now, but no one chooses to do so. [Tags: ]

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[f2c] First panel

At Freedom to Connect, the opening panel, moderated by Joanne Hovis, is on municipal wifi. [Note: Liveblogging. Missing stuff. Typing too fast. Not spellpchecking. No rereading. This is a terribly incomplete and occasionally wrong set of notes.]

Tim Nulty is the former head of Burlington Telecom, and is now the head of a consortium bringing fiber to rural Vermont. He says there are about 45 municipal wifi companies in the US. We pretty much know how to do that. It’s different in rural areas, where the average density is 13 residences per linear mile. About 60% have no broadband. Why should it be harder to replace copper wire with glass the second time around? Why is there this myth that it’s impossible? Because there are incumbents who have a financial interest in saying that it’s impossible because they don’t want to do it [because the margins are lower than they want, which would drive down their overall margins, even while increasing their revenue].

Dirk Van der Woude, program manager for broadband in Amsterdam. They provide boradband as a public service such as garbage collection.

Lev Gonick, founder of One Community, has a million institutional users, via a community network, a 501C3. It has about 4,000 route miles. The governance model is mayor-proof because the infrastructure owns the governance. The goal was not to build-up fiber optics but to enable and transform their communty.

Bill Schrier works on getting Seattle fibered. He says that they’re spending $4B on highway infrastructure, which is 8x what it would cost to bring fiber everywhere.

First Joanne question: Fiber vs. Wireless [which is the topic burning up the backchannel]. Dirk says he pays for fiber at home. Wifi works but is slow, he says. For wifi, you need access points with backhaul that is likely to be fiber.

Bill: What’s the killer app for a network? HDTV. Video teleconferencing.

Tim: Fiber is cheaper and more economic if you intend to be universal. Bringing fiber to his neck of the woods (1,000 sq miles) is $69M. Doing this through wireless, with 2.3 or 2.5gH Wimax, to get close to universality, would be $35M. It costs half as much but brings 1/4 the revenue. The capacity is 1% of what you get with fiber. The right thing economically to do is to put the Wimax on top of the fiber network, at which point it costs $10M, which makes it a great business.

Dirk: In Amsterdam, dwellings are stacked. Getting the fiber to move vertically is a problem.

Mark Cooper: Which comes first, fixed or mobile computing? For connecting the underserved, the killer app isn’t HDTV. It’s connectivity. We want wireless: 1. It gets you further. 2. Mobile computing is a twofer: Mobile computing and basic connectivity that meets the need for connectivity. 3. Mobile computing is future-proof. For this project [stimulus package?] wireless is the right thing to do. 4. Public accountability.

Tim: Rural fiber does not need public money. It can pay its own way. Rural wireless does not pay its own way.

Lev: This is a family dispute. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Let’s move ahead, be pragmatic, etc…

Bill: Wireless and fiber are synergistic, (David I. asks for a show of hands; everyone agrees.)

Q: Fiber is the foundation that supports wireless. Now: Go mesh!

Tim: Mesh is great for thin uses. But for carrying lots of data, it breaks down.

Bob Frankston: We need to change the dynamic. We’re stuck in railroads where you pay for each trip. We need to get to the point where assume connectivity at any speed. The question is the funding model.

Dirk: Cooperate with anyone who wants to cooperate with you, so long as you get the network you want…

Bice Wilson: “Designing the hidden public way,” i.e., the infrastructure of connectivity. There’s a vast network of services that needs connectivity to the entire community.

Lev: That’s what One Community is about.

Bill: In Seattle, that’s where we’re directing our efforts.

Roxanne Googin: Current status…?

Tim: The really important investment is in universal fiber.

Joanne wraps up reminding us of the sense of the room that we want universal connectivity and we want it yesterday. [Gross paraphrase] [Tags: ]

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Freedom to Connect stream

I’m at Freedom to Connect, David Isenberg‘s annual conference on building open, fast, dumb networks. If you go to the F2C site, there should be instructions about how to live stream the proceedings. The twitter hashtag is #f2c09. The room’s backchannel is here.

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December 17, 2008

Radio Berkman podcast: Free, national, and for five-year-olds

In this week’s Radio Berkman podcast, I interview Stephen Schultze about the FCC’s auctioning off spectrum to a national provider who would be required to use 25% of it for free, nationwide wifi. There’s only one catch: That wifi would have to only connect to sites and services that are safe for minors (defined as people between 5 and 18).

After we had recorded this interview last week, the FCC postponed voting on the proposal, and since it’s the baby of the outgoing Chair, it’s probably postponed forever. Still, the idea raises some really interesting issues. Steve and I focus on the free speech considerations, although the opposition from other spectrum-holders certainly could not have encouraged the FCC.

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December 9, 2008

Maslow’s hierarchy for geeks on the road

Abraham Maslow is famous for his Hierarchy of Human Needs:

Self-actualization
Esteem
Love/
Safety
Physiological

(RageBoy has a different take on Maslow.)

In discussion with Thomas Crampton, we have come up with the Hierarchy of Traveling Geek Needs:

Free wifi
Power outlets

That’s as far as we could get.

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September 6, 2008

[ae] Jonah Brucker-Cohen

Jonah Brucker-Cohen (link link) says open systems encourage audiences to become active co-ccreators, reconfigure rule sets and create opportunities for now types of engagement. He lists some open tools, both hardware (Aduino, Freeduino, OpenPCD, Sun Small Programmable Object Technology) software, and art (Open Museum of Open Source Art). He shows a video of a literal breadboard by Teppien [sp?]. [NOTE: Live blogging. Error-full. Posted without proofreading.]

What are the benefits of subverting network context? Altering rule-sets shifts the engagement structure of a system. Forcing openness creates opportunities for risk or plahy. Hacking into systems challenges their general use.

Public wireless space allows community groups to serve local citizens, creative projects engaging with users. In privatized wireless spaces (e.g., in airports), they’re claimed by individuals. This raises the question: How do we allocate public wireless resources. Two of his projects challenge these relationships: Wifi-Hog challenged Starbuck’s (et al.) assumption that its pay wifi should be allowed to drive out free public wifi. Wifi-Hog blocks everyone else’s use of wifi. Jonah was asking about the acceptable use policy of public wifi nodes and about the promise of the “public sphere as a social leveler” (Habermas).

Wifi-Liberator toolkit (hw and sw) allows you to get around security in locked hotspots. But it only gives you access if you share.

Q: (James) Jamming wifi is to openness as screaming so loud that no one else can hear is to free speech. How does this move us toward openness?
A: It points out the points of control. That’s a requirement for change.

Q: (yochai) How about creating a trivially implementable meshing algorithm for residential wifi.
A: Fon is doing this.
Q: Fon is still commercial and wants to be compatible with the business model of the carriers. [Tags: ]

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