[Chtechcomm] Wifi and Downtown Partnership

Terri Buckner tbuckner at ibiblio.org
Fri Oct 28 20:13:54 EDT 2005

Dear Committee Members,

On Monday at 7:30 am, Gregg Gerdau and Dr. Shannon Schelin from the 
School of Government will be making a presentation on wireless networks 
to the Downtown Partnership (DP). The text, provided for the DP board of 
directors is copied below. I've also attached a copy of the draft 
business survey they are recommending.

The DP meets in the Bill Cherry Board Room in the Bank of  America 
Center (Downtown) Downstairs. Parking is available in the Wallace Deck 
off Rosemary Street. Enter the back door of the Bank of America building 
and the Board room is just to the right once you enter the building.

This will be the second full item on their agenda:

Full agenda available at:


Wireless Internet Connectivity (Wi-Fi) is a technology that enables 
broadband Internet access via unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4 GHz and 5 
GHz bands. Often Wi-Fi is called 802.11a/b/g/n, which are engineering 
terms that differentiate speed and location on the spectrum.  For 
example, 802.11a is the slowest connection, while 802.11g is a newer, 
faster release.

In order to deploy Wi-Fi, you must have a transmitter base connected to 
a wired network.  This transmitter will project a wireless signal 
approximately 300 feet (radius).  Accessing the wireless network is 
achieved through the use of wireless network cards added or integrated 
into computers and other devices.  Depending upon the number of users on 
a network, Wi-Fi can offer transmission speeds of 54 Mbps (megabytes per 
second).  Many local establishments, such as coffee shops, restaurants, 
hair salons, and the University, offer wireless access points (known as 
“hotspots”) for customer use.  Some establishments charge for this 
access, as is found in many Starbucks Coffee Houses, while others offer 
free wireless connectivity.

The demand for wireless access is growing at an exponential rate.  In 
the past year, no fewer than 15 North Carolina local governments have 
begun exploring municipal wireless networks.  Most recently, the town of 
Clayton (see attachment A) has committed to deploying a small wireless 
footprint in their downtown, while assessing the feasibility of 
town-wide deployment.  Furthermore, the number of Wi-Fi hotspots 
(worldwide) is estimated to grown from 43,850 in 2003 to more than 
200,000 by 2008 (In-Stat/MDR, October 2004).  This predicted growth rate 
and the entrance of local governments into the wireless market provides 
for opportunities for action on behalf of citizens, as well as 
interesting legislative involvement.

Significant research has been conducted on the economic, social, and 
political drivers of the municipal wireless movement.  The most cited 
reasons include: economic development, educational and occupational 
opportunities, regional and global competitiveness, rural integration, 
urban revitalization, affordable modern health care, transportation 
enhancement, environmental enhancement, and quality of life issues. 
Furthermore, many proponents of municipal wireless networks believe that 
the private sector has failed in the wireless market, due to the 
economic constraints, consolidation, lack of responsiveness, continually 
rising rates, poor customer service, and inadequate offerings in many 
locations, particularly rural areas.

There are many challenges associated with the provision of municipal 
wireless networks.  First and foremost are the legislative challenges, 
including bills currently being discussed in the US Congress. 
Currently, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 authorizes preemption of 
state and local laws and regulations “that prohibit or have the effect 
of prohibiting the ability of any entity” to provide telecommunications 
services. (47 U. S. C. §253).  The FCC ruled that “any entity” provision 
in §253 does not include state political subdivisions.  But the 8th 
Circuit Appeals Court unanimously reversed the FCC’s decision. 
Furthermore, state authority and local authority must be granted to 
allow public entrance into the communications market.
One case of particular interest with respect to the municipal provision 
of broadband service is Bellsouth Telecommunications v. City of 
Laurinburg and School Link.  This case clarifies NC law regarding 
municipal ownership and operation of a fiber-optic network.  In 2002, 
Laurinburg was sued by BellSouth for violating state law by selling 
excess capacity on its fiber-optic network through ISP, School Link– 
Scotland County government, county schools, Scotland Memorial Hospital, 
and St. Andrews Presbyterian College.  The BellSouth argument was that 
this service is not one that cities are specifically authorized to 
provide and therefore prohibited.  In 2003, a trial judge granted 
summary judgment to Laurinburg, ruling that it was within its statutory 
authority to enter into agreement with School Link and let others use 
their network without explicit NC General Assembly authorization.  In 
2005, the North Carolina Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the 
decision, rejecting BellSouth’s appeal and ruling that the city’s 
operation of a fiber optic network fell within its authority to operate 
a “cable TV system” under the public enterprise statutes.

The bases of the NC Court of Appeals include: 1. Broad standard of 
construction of G.S. 160A and city charters (as directed by the GA in 
G.S. 160A-4); 2. “the provisions of Chapter 160A and of city charters 
shall be broadly construed and that grants of power shall be construed 
to include any additional and supplementary powers that are reasonably 
necessary or expedient to carry them into execution and effect.” 
Homebuilders Assn. of Charlotte v. City of Charlotte, 336 N.C. 37, 
41-42, 442 S.E.2d 45, 49 (1994); 3. Laurinburg’s fiber optics network is 
a “cable television system” (CTS) authorized to be owned and operated by 
a city as a public enterprise by G.S. 160A-311(7); 4. “cable television 
system” means any system or facility that, by means of a master antenna 
and wires or cables, or by wires or cables alone, receives, amplifies, 
modifies, transmits, or distributes any television, radio, or electronic 
signal, audio or video or both, to subscribing members of the public for 
compensation (N.C.Gen. Stat. § 160A-319(b)); and, 5. “ . . . the 
legislature’s intent in 1971 was to enable the municipality’s public 
enterprise to grow in reasonable stride with technological advancements, 
as it is this advancement which marks the ever-approaching horizon of 
necessity.”  Bellsouth Telecommunications v. City of Laurinburg and 
School Link, COA04-145

The outcome of this case expressly allows the provision of such service, 
defined as part of the cable franchise.

There are several options for the provision of municipal wireless 
networks.  The first option is for the local government to offer the 
service as a utility, similar to water and sewer services.  This option 
requires the design, deployment, and maintenance of the infrastructure 
by the Town or via a public-private partnership.  • Other jurisdictions 
have established separate boards, authorities, and commissions to handle 
the oversight of municipal wireless networks.  Multi-government 
interlocal projects are also common between counties and cities, or 
neighboring cities.

Another option is to develop a non-profit organization to manage the 
effort, as was established in Philadelphia.  Other public-private 
partnerships include owning and/or leasing the facilities and offer 
retail ISP services; owing and/or leasing the facilities and offering 
wholesaling capacities to private sector firms, as is being attempted in 
Philadelphia PA.  A common option is to own and/or lease facilities and 
then provide restricted access to the network.  A final popular model, 
that attempts to address digital divide issues, is to lease the right of 
way, offer municipal services in addition to retail offerings.

Other Considerations:
As the Town begins to explore municipal wireless options, some specific 
considerations should be given to properly identifying and estimating 
initial costs and on-going maintenance; vigilance to ongoing state and 
federal legislation; governance issues related to the deployment of such 
a service; a viable alternatives analysis of the types of available 
technology (Wi-Fi, Wi-Max, FTTH); and, the significant security 
requirements, and subsequently implications, of the provision of such a 

Finally, a new trend is emerging with universities and the provision of 
wireless networks.  If a market study indicates that students are the 
major clients of downtown establishments, then a partnership with the 
University should be encouraged.  For example, Arizona State is 
expanding their wireless cloud to include the major retail section of 
town, in order to provide greater customer service to students.  This 
model requires additional security and access controls at the University 
level, but technologies are readily available to achieve the requisite 
level of control.


The News and Observer, September 26, 2005

Clayton's wish for free Wi-Fi: 'Set us apart'

By PEGGY LIM, Staff Writer

CLAYTON -- Hidden atop a shelf with jars of "Jamaican Me Crazy" and 
"Irish Cream" coffee beans, a small blue-and-black box soundlessly 
transmits wireless Internet to customers at a Clayton cafe.

"It's a necessity of a coffee shop of the 21st century," said Jodi 
Sager, owner of The Coffee Mill, which added the perk about six months ago.

Some Clayton officials want to go a giant step further and blanket the 
town with free or low-cost wireless Internet access points. That way, 
anyone with a wireless-enabled laptop or computer could go online 
practically anywhere in town.

"It's really going to set us apart," Town Councilman Alex Harding said.

As major companies race to roll out paid-for wireless broadband services 
across the country, municipalities such as Clayton are talking about 
extending Wi-Fi service at no, or low cost, to all residents. Some 
cities, such as Raleigh, Apex and Winston-Salem, already offer wireless 
Internet in sections of their downtown, but few provide the service 

This year, Clayton plans to bring wireless to town buildings, community 
parks and a public square at a cost of about $10,000. If Town Council 
members support it and Congress doesn't pass legislation barring 
municipal wireless, Clayton could begin installing other wireless access 
points elsewhere in town as early as next year.
This summer, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and former 
employee of telecom giant SBC, introduced a bill to prohibit state and 
local governments from offering Internet service if a private provider 
already does. The likes of Verizon, SBC and Comcast lobbied Congress and 
states such as Florida, Tennessee, and Illinois to prohibit 
municipalities from providing information services.

Other proposed legislation floating in Congress supports municipal 
Major telecom and cable companies "look at us as a competitor," said 
Angela Tousey, Clayton information services administrator. "We look at 
it as providing services to our citizens that may not be able to afford 
that $40-a-month bill."

Clayton, a Johnston County town of about 12,000 people, may follow the 
model of pioneering towns such as Manteo on the Outer Banks. Manteo, 
where the population of 1,300 doubles during summer months, saw wireless 
service as another amenity to draw tourists.

Partnering with cable company Charter, Manteo is installing wireless hot 
spots across town, which will give users free Internet access in 
30-minute increments. The intent is to give people enough time to check 
e-mail or surf the Net, but prevent them from abusing the system and 
hogging bandwidth, for example, by downloading songs off Napster. Those 
who want unlimited access would have to subscribe with Charter for a 
monthly fee.

Larger cities, such as Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., and Taipei, Taiwan, 
are also attempting to provide free or inexpensive wireless services to 
increase their attractiveness and reduce the divide between those with 
Internet access and those without.
Wireless could be very expensive for a municipality to provide on its 
own. Michael Bavaro, CEO of the Clayton-based Internet provider 
Dockpoint, thinks towns should partner with local companies so they 
don't duplicate existing infrastructure and interfere with other 
wireless Internet systems.

Towns have a hard enough time keeping up with power, roads and other 
utilities, Bavaro said. "They want to stick their finger in another pie?"

He acknowledged partnering with local governments could also benefit 
wireless Internet providers.

Unlike cellphones, the Wi-Fi technology Dockpoint and many other 
companies use requires line-of-sight transmissions. That means if a tree 
branch blocks a signal between a transmission point and a building's 
receiving antenna, the building could lose its Internet connection. 
Height helps.

In North Carolina, local governments have put moratoriums on new 
transmission towers, and cellular phone companies are possessive of 
their infrastructure, Bavaro said. Local governments, however, own lots 
of tall buildings, water towers, power lines, light poles and telephone 
poles, which could serve as transmission points.

Emerging technologies could make it less appealing for private companies 
to work with local governments, though. WiMax, a technology to which 
Wi-Fi companies expect to migrate, can send out signals in a radius of 
up to 31 miles, as opposed to up to 10 miles with current Wi-Fi 
technologies. The increased coverage area might make it less necessary 
to partner with local governments for tall transmission points.

Clayton resident Patrick Tombrey, 39, said he'd welcome town-sponsored 
wireless hot spots. A director for global accounts at a 
Massachusetts-based software company, Tombrey totes his cellphone, 
Blackberry personal digital assistant and laptop to The Coffee Mill 
whenever the digital subscriber line at his Glen Laurel home 
inexplicably shuts down. Municipal wireless would make it that much more 
convenient to use Internet around town.

"How can anyone argue that not being a good thing?" he said.
Researcher Denise Jones contributed to this report.

Staff writer Peggy Lim can be reached at 836-5799 or plim at newsobserver.com.
Researcher Denise Jones contributed to this report.

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