Submitted by acohill on Sat, 01/15/2005 - 07:57
The City Council of St. Paul, Minnesota has approved a study to consider the feasibility of citywide wireless broadband.
The three month study will look for "the common good" that might be gained from community-managed telecom infrastructure. This is, as far as I know, the first time the common good has been explicity acknowledged in this kind of study. It has been implicitly part of many other community telecom projects, but it's about time we started this particular conversation in more earnest.
What has dominated the discussion so far has been the "unfairness" of community telecom projects, all viewed through the lens of monopoly telecom providers. Using that yardstick, community water systems are "unfair" because someone might want to build their own, private water system. Public sanitation would be "unfair" because someone might want to get into the sewer business. Our legislators and government officials need to start thinking more clearly about these issues.
Submitted by acohill on Fri, 01/14/2005 - 09:59
Texas has a foot in the emerging Space Economy with the announcement that Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, is planning a spaceport facility in southwest Texas.
Bezos is from nearby New Mexico, and has been working on this project from Seattle for several years. The most interesting part of this story is that the Bezos ranch, near El Paso, is not really that far from southern New Mexico's spaceport. The two locations are likely to form a "space tech" corridor that will fuel growth in the region for decades.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 01/11/2005 - 20:51
USA Today has an article about Lafayette, Louisiana, which has been trying to put together a community fiber project for the past year. The southern Louisiana community has apparently been beaten down by BellSouth, which has vigorously opposed the deal.
BellSouth has claimed it is "unfair" for communities to offer a service the company could offer, even though it provides only DSL in the community, a pale shadow of the robust fiber network the city was planning.
At the risk of boring my regular readers, there are two ways to approach community telecom projects. One is to regard telecom infrastructure just like roads. Communities build the roads, but private companies (like BellSouth) deliver services (like dialtone or TV programming) to customers. The other approach is to regard telecom infrastructure like the municipal water or electric system, in which the city itself provides the customer services.
The latter is certainly more efficient, but given that many of our elected leaders still don't take any of this very seriously and given that we have a ridiculously complex regulatory environment, I think the former approach (a public/private partnership) is the only alternative.
Rightly or wrongly, communities that are trying to create public monopolies in this area are losing. The telecoms are outspending them and are buying whatever laws are needed to prevent community investments. But communities must invest to stay viable in the global economy, and Lafayette knows that. From the article:
"The future of Lafayette shouldn't be left to the whim of the big telecommunications companies, insists City Parish President Joey Durel. Installing fiber-optic cable, he credibly argues, is no different from laying down sidewalks or sewer lines.
In fact, the "triple play" plan mirrors the action Lafayette's city fathers took a century ago when they realized the private power companies were passing them by in favor of larger, more lucrative markets in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. To survive, they built their own municipal power system.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/06/2005 - 14:45
The Redwood Technology Consortium has won a grant to collect data on the best practices of community networks around the country. The RTC represents technology interests for the North Coast region of California, centered in the Eureka area.
This is a great project. As I've often remarked, it's more about education than technology, and the RTC is doing right by trying to learn from other projects. Too many communities end up reinventing the wheel, and in the process, spending too much money and getting bad advice from local "experts" who typically have no experience in managing communitywide technology and telecom efforts.
The usual pattern is to appoint a local IT director from a school system, a corporation, or other large institution to head the project. But institutional networks operate under budget, staffing, and technical constraints very different from heterogeneous communitywide networks. Communitywide projects have to be approached in a very different way, with a heavy emphasis on education and relationship-building. Technology itself is also much less an issue for community projects, in the sense that there are now well-established tools and platforms for community portal sites, and for infrastructure development, the market is now mature, and the emphasis for infrastructure should be on tying communities needs and goals to the investments, rather than rushing out to buy a lot of "stuff."
The North Coast area is fortunate to have a Tech Council taking the lead on these issues. One of the problems with community investments in telecom and technology is that they typically fall across many public and private institutional boundaries, meaning that there is no one entity that has ownership in the same way, for example, that a town owns and manages public roads. It truly is a public/private enterprise, and tech councils are a great way to bring stakeholders together and to sustain the process.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 12/28/2004 - 12:07
Texas continues to be a leader in rolling out public WiFi. Several months ago, the state announced it was going to offer WiFi at highway rest stops. Now it will also offer it in some state parks. The reasons are shrewd--state officials have decided to invest to boost tourism among some very narrowly targeted groups that want more access while out in the parks, with birders and "snowbirds," the winter RV crowd among those mentioned.
The article also has some interesting stats on the deployment of WiFi, the costs, and who is using it.
Submitted by acohill on Tue, 10/26/2004 - 09:27
About this time last year, Virginia Tech, right here in rural Appalachia, made world news with a dirt cheap supercomputer that ranked number 3 in the world in terms of speed and processing power.
The university did some thinking out of the box and discarded the conventional approach to building supercomputers (typically using a lot of custom hardware). Instead they bought 1100 off the shelf Macintoshes, wired them together with more off the shelf hardware, and wrote a small amount of software to turn the Macs into a monster supercomputer.
Since then, the university has swapped out all the older G4 processor-based machines for much smaller Macintosh Xserve industrial servers based on the much more powerful G5 processor. The floor space needed for the machine shrunk, the heat output was reduced, and speed was increased by 19%.
I remain convinced that a regional supercomputer facility should be regarded as essential economic development infrastructure. Microenterprise businesses and other small businesses increasingly need access to supercomputing facilities, and this is no different that sewer and water was forty years ago.
The good news is that putting a supercomputer together is pretty easy. Apple will build you a turnkey G5 cluster so you don't need a research university. And for a rural community seeking an edge in the global economy, I can't think of a better calling card. A modest supercomputer facility would not cost as much as a shell building, and would be a perfect complement to a business incubator.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/11/2004 - 19:23
The second speaker is James Baker, from central Pennsylvania, with the Council of Governments--an 11 county area with 300 local government entities of one kind or another. Most communities are under 2500 population, and many are under 1000. Generally a very low density area--20-40 households per square mile as an average.
Broadband services are expanding in the area. However, 98% of Pennsylvania urban areas have some form of broadband, but only 25% of rural areas have some kind of service. Providers view rural areas as not good markets.
The state of Pennsylvania has funded a GIS system that provides service maps for various kinds of services available (i.e. DSL, cable modem, etc). Good tool, but data quality varies, some limitations in granularity of data.
Wireless services were considered for expansion in one county by swapping tower space on an EMS tower with space on a commercially-owned tower in another part of the county. EMS would get better radio coverage, and residents and businesses would get more access and choice in broadband.
Murphy's Law kicked in...the six inch square antenna which was to be put on the county tower would require a $5000 engineering study to make sure it would not add significant wind loading to the 200' tower. No one would pay for the study, so the project got slowed down while a variety of funding sources were pursued. The ARC came to the rescue, but the $5000 grant application required almost the same amount of paperwork as a $150,000 grant.
After the engineering studies were done, it was discovered that the county did have legal control of the tower, and that has required additional effort. Testing by the service provider has shown that nearly the entire anticipated service area will be covered.
In the meantime, the government fiber project is using wireless to expand coverage beyond the ends of the fiber. Some nonprofits are getting service.
Issues include legal problems--one person, the county lawyer, has the power to stop these projects dead in their tracks. If the cable company expands service, the wireless provider may feel it is not worth it to continue expansion--it becomes very important for government to be able to move quickly to help private businesses.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 09/23/2004 - 14:37
Back in the early winter of this year, I wrote about the potential of a new generation of WiFi mesh network software and hardware to make it much easier to design and provision community wireless networks.
Philadelphia, which has been in the news recently for their announcement that they were looking at WiFi, has now released more details about their plans, which will include using mesh WiFi equipment to create a wireless blanket over most of the city (135 square miles). Only between 8 and 16 antennas will be needed per square mile.
Mesh networks are less expensive and are designed to be easy to deploy. Mesh networks also are fault tolerant. In a properly designed mesh, you can lost some antennas and equipment and most users will still be able to stay connected to the network.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/28/2004 - 08:33
A Ziff-Davis news article chronicles a series of new broadband projects and applications using broadband, and calls broadband a "necessity."
Big Stone Gap, Virginia is keeping some employers in town and attracting new ones with the help of their fiber network. Led by Skip Skinner of the Lenowisco Planning District, the region has been laying fiber in Emtelle microduct for the past year, building a regional fiber backbone and making fiber available to downtown businesses in Big Stone Gap.
Design Nine has been working with Skinner and Lenowisco Planning District since early spring on a telecom master plan for the entire region, and of course, the fiber buildout is a cornerstone of future plans.
Submitted by acohill on Thu, 06/10/2004 - 12:55
A press release from the Texas Dept. of Transportation announces that they are going to put WiFi in all state-managed rest stops in Texas.
They have an interesting rationale. DOT believes it will help get people off the roads more frequently to take a break and rest. It makes sense to me. I drive a lot, and the ability to stop and check my business mail conveniently has a lot of appeal. WiFi marches on.
Submitted by acohill on Mon, 05/24/2004 - 19:49
California is following New Mexico in preparing a commercial spaceport. An article on Space.com describes the effort in the Mojave Desert, down in southern California.
At least four space transportation companies are located at the spaceport or are planning to use it, including Bert Rutan's Scaled Composites. Rutan's company is expected to win the $10 million dollar X prize for the first commercial sub-orbitals flights.
Submitted by acohill on Wed, 05/12/2004 - 07:46
The Southwest Regional Spaceport in New Mexico has been chosen to host the two week long X Cup competition. The X Cup is a $10 million prize that will given to the team that successfully launches a suborbital spacecraft twice in two weeks.
Regular readers know that I am very bullish on the emerging Space Economy, which will hit full stride in about twenty years. New Mexico, which by many measures, is one of the poorest and most disadvantaged states in the U.S., has its eyes firmly on the future. Does your state have an Office of Space Commercialization? New Mexico does, and won in the bidding against Florida, which would appear to have all the advantages.
Is the Space Economy going to be the salvation of rural communities everywhere? Of course not. But New Mexico has created a vision of what it wants to be in the future and the kinds of opportunities it wants to create for its citizens, and is acting on it. I think it will succeed.
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