[Chtechcomm] Wifi signals slowly spreading across Triangle

W Raymond chtechboard at willraymond.org
Thu Oct 13 20:06:12 EDT 2005

Hooray Uzoma!  Great job.


Terri Buckner wrote:

>Wifi signals slowly spreading across Triangle
>Cities ponder free wireless access
>B Y F I O N A   M O R G A N
>It's campaign season again, and there's a new issue in town: public 
>wireless Internet access. Raleigh has incorporated free wireless into 
>its Fayetteville Street plan. Cary appointed a committee to study the 
>issue and decided only to publish a list of local businesses that offer 
>the plan. The Indy has tried to keep the issue alive by including it in 
>our own candidate questionnaires. And it's also been an issue in 
>candidate forums, nowhere more than in Chapel Hill.
>Amid thoughtful discussion of the usual complex issues, like stormwater 
>and land use planning, candidates for Chapel Hill Town Council are 
>discussing the pros and cons of public broadband access. Will Raymond, a 
>member of the town's technology advisory board, has long been a 
>proponent. Fellow candidate Laurin Easthom made support for wireless 
>part of her platform right out of the gate. Incumbents Mark Kleinschmidt 
>and Ed Harrison are vocal supporters, as are challengers Jason Baker and 
>Bill Thorpe. Mayor Foy says he needs to know more before he can offer 
>his support.
>There are some basic questions to answer: Would this system be run by 
>the town as a utility, or by a private company? Who would it be designed 
>to serve? How much would it cost? How would the town pay for it?
>The town tech board is working on a proposal that would answer those 
>questions, which they hope to bring to the council by the start of the 
>next term. "We're handling this with the most extreme care," says tech 
>board member (and non-candidate) Uzoma Nwosu, "because we'd rather do it 
>right than do it again."
>Lots of other cities are offering wireless around the country--and in 
>North Carolina. The Johnston County town of Clayton, population 12,000, 
>plans to blanket the town with hotspots that would allow anyone to go 
>online for free for 30-minute increments. Right next door to Chapel 
>Hill, the town of Carrboro offers free wireless broadband access in the 
>downtown district around Weaver Street Market. But none of the 
>Triangle's free wifi offerings are designed to be residents' primary 
>Internet service.
>Chapel Hill has grander ambitions, Nwosu says. Any program it undertakes 
>would go way beyond the coffee shop laptop crowd on Franklin Street. The 
>board is looking at low-cost ways to offering access to every citizen by 
>blanketing neighborhoods, especially those whose residents have lower 
>incomes and are less likely to be broadband subscribers. And if you're 
>going to serve everyone in town, that means serving many 
>college-educated, tech-savvy professionals. "They have computers, 
>wifi-enabled PDAs--you name it, they're running it. Their uses and needs 
>might exceed what these other towns are offering," Nwosu says.
>Most exciting, he says, is the opportunity to reach across the digital 
>divide. "How can we help the school system reach out to under-served 
>neighborhoods, to get to those houses where children don't have 
>computers or Internet access plugged into the technology age? It's one 
>of my personal goals in this committee, to make that happen."
>The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system already has a program in place 
>that provides refurbished computers to students who otherwise wouldn't 
>have them. Ray Reitz, the school system's chief technology officer, says 
>he's excited about the prospect of a wireless program that could get 
>those kids online. "The schools are very interested in finding ways to 
>offer access to our under-served communities," he says. "We're 
>interested in working with the town in any way we can to make this happen."
>He knows that cost, organization and management, and to a lesser extent 
>security, need to be ironed out. Nwosu adds another to the list: 
>constantly changing technology. WiFi, the current technology, is cheap 
>but covers only small areas (10 miles at best). The next generation, 
>WiMax, is much more expensive but covers much more ground (up to 30 
>miles). Going ahead with a WiFi system now, he says, "is like us giving 
>everybody a VHS system when everyone's using DVDs."
>But excitement over the plan is growing, Nwosu says. "I sense urgency to 
>get it done now, so that at least the options are on the table and when 
>the new people come that it would be an item of business for them to act 
>on. We want this to happen. And I tell ya, it's only a small piece of 
>the vision of digital government that we've been pushing all along."
>There's another incentive to get it done quickly--it's not just 
>technology that's changing. So is the law.
>Several states have already passed or barely defeated initiatives to 
>prevent towns and cities from implementing plans like the one Chapel 
>Hill is looking into. In North Carolina, no such legal barrier exists so 
>far. But telecom and cable industry lobbyists have been working hard to 
>keep their lock on broadband service.
>The city everyone has an eye on is Philadelphia, where, after years of 
>highly successful charter projects in inner-city neighborhoods, the city 
>made a decision to implement low-cost wireless broadband access 
>continually around the city. That meant standing up to some very angry 
>telecom companies, which already have a monopoly in phone and cable 
>service in Philly. Earthlink is expected to win the Philly contract, and 
>subscriptions will cost $20 per month, half that for low-income 
>residents, with continuous coverage throughout the city.
>In San Francisco, Google wants to provide a citywide wireless broadband 
>system that would challenge cable and telecom monopolies there. 
>Municipal wireless is a way for new players to inject some real 
>competition into the otherwise monopolized world of telecom services.
>At the federal level, there are a few bills floating around, some good 
>and some bad. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas (naturally) 
>and former telecom executive (yep), is sponsoring a revision to the 1996 
>Telecommunications Act that, among other things, would prohibit state 
>and local governments from providing Internet service if a private 
>provider already does. Meanwhile, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Frank 
>Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have introduced the Community Broadband Act of 2005, 
>a good bill that would override any state laws restricting municipal 
>broadband. "This is the best bill to support at the federal level," says 
>Craig Aaron of Free Press, a media reform activist group. "It's very 
>clear-cut. It would free up local communities to figure out what's best 
>for themselves." (Oddly, McCain has also backed the Sessions bill; 
>presumably there's enough in it he likes that he's willing to hold his 
>nose and deal with the muni issue in a separate piece of legislation. 
>Just can't figure that guy out.)
>If you like that idea, call Liddy Dole (202-224-6342) and Richard Burr 
>(202-224-3154) and ask them to back S. 1294, the Community Broadband 
>Act. Quick, before Verizon gets to them.
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