Public (Not Private) Internet Access for Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill provides many public services to its citizens. Over the years we've recognized the importance for all people to have equal access to basic necessities like water, sewer, electricity, telephone, transportation, roads, sidewalks, parks, etc. (The ones the town doesn't directly provide the state regulates.) As the town moves into the twenty-first century we find that other types of access are just as important, especially in the new global economies.

One of those new types of access is Internet access. (Wi-Fi is one way to access information on the Internet.) It is steady stream of information that allows people to do all kinds of valuable and important things. In only a few years we have seen this access move from a mere toy to an extremely valuable tool. Very soon Internet access will be more than a tool but a resource that we all can not live without.

In order to assure that public Internet access is consistently provided, maintained, upgraded, and use education is made available we need a long term solution provider. This Internet access provider must have the resources to continue services well into the future. This robustness requires the service provider to function through difficult and prosperous economic times. Because of technologies swift rate of change, profit can not be the primary goal if public Internet access is to be consistently provided.

For these reasons and many others we have a public non-profit entity called OWASA provide our water access. They have the support of the town and county governments and a mandate to continue providing equal access to water resources indefinitely. This type of organization is the best kind to provide public information access to the Citizens of Chapel Hill. Let's all work together to facilitate the creation of a new non-profit organization to provide public Internet access for all citizens of Chapel Hill.

Issues: 

Total votes: 175

Comments

I'm in. What's the first step?

At thr risk of getting too bureaucratic too fast, we will eventually have to get the elected bodies engaged, which normally happens from:

1. a sitting council/alder person or commissioner taking the initiative
2. by petition from citizens.

Some people may argue for a study commission, but I'd rather not get mired down in a big philosophical discussion about WHETHER to do this. We need to quickly get the focus on HOW to do it . . . and the OWASA analogy is pretty good.

But are you thinking Orange County, too? Might be more productive to get the ball rolling with Carrboro and Chapel Hill in a partnership . . . and let others jump on the train once it's rolling.

As most of you probably know, cheap or free universal Internet access for Carrboro has been a big push of mine in the past campaign. I implore those who take an active part in this effort (and I humbly hope to be included in this process) to consider collaboration between Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Apart from economies of scale considerations, among other things, it would electronically unify the school district, enabling it to offer web-based educational services to its students.

This is the logical next step for two towns that take pride in the education of its children and which take seriously the challenge of closing the achievement gaps.

David, I agree that cheap access to internet is a good way to give our students and citizens an advantage, but I don't see how you can say free. Free implies to me no cost. As I understand WIFI, and I don't understand it really, it emanates from some sort of broadcast with a limited range. How many of these WIFI broadcasting units would be neccesary to serve all the citizens of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. How much space does each one need and how much does each one cost? Anyone know?

Pat,

i meant that there are folks in Carrboro who might find even $10/month a real burden.

I hope Will R. is monitoring this post because he is the man with the answers. I think the short answer of the cost of this project is that it depends on which of several technological options the towns chooses. Will?

"Over the years we've recognized the importance for all people to have equal access to basic necessities like water, sewer, electricity, telephone, transportation, roads, sidewalks, parks, etc."

Don't people have to pay for water, sewer, electricity and telephone service?

Why should Internet access be any different?

Laurin Easthom raised the issue of a municipal network at the Council retreat and it was listed as #11 on the Council's priorities for this year. Laurin has also requested that the Tech Committee give the Council a plan for how to proceed sometime in February. She's doing a great job leading us into action; I hope everyone will support her.

I agree David--I'd like to see us follow the Forsyth County Model and bring all the interested parties in south Orange together to create a similar nonprofit organization to 1) identify the scope of the service we want to provide, 2) determine a business model, and 3) set up the organization responsible for getting the network designed and installed. The school system, the university, the Chamber of Commerce, both towns, Empowerment and the Downtown Partnership all expressed their interest in participation back in August. There was a bleep in the system but it's time to move forward.

The one thing I hope this discussion will result in is a discontinuation of the 'wifi' designation. Wifi is a particular means of providing access to the internet. What I hope we can discuss is a municipal network that will support telecommunications (telephone and Internet), at fixed addresses or mobile service, and possibly cable. Wifi as currently used in our towns is something that is "nice to have" if you have a laptop. A municipal network is a basic utility, as Brian describes. A municpal network could be a significant cost savings to small businesses as well as residents and a huge cost savings to the two towns, both of which contract out (CH contracts with Time Warner) for their network access. Wifi is an added business expense. A municipal network might use wifi, but wifi is not a municipal network.

Allan,

I understand your sentiment; I promise you I do. But I'm afraid for the little girl or boy who will suffer if his or her parents feel this is a cost they cannot or would rather not bear. Internet access is not the same as water and sewer where there are real and immediate consequences from not paying.

I want to close the achievement gaps, not aggravate them.

I don't have the answer to this dilemma, which is why we need to start talking, like Terri suggests, about scope, business model, and organizational authority. I think costs and who bear them will naturally arise from these discussions.

How likely is it that someone who doesn't see the value in paying $10 a month for Internet access will be willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a computer?

Conversely, how likely is that someone who has paid hundreds of dollars for a computer will not be willing to pay $10 a month to connect to the Internet?

Allan,

I don't believe in free lunches so my promotion of this idea is based around achieving 1) realistic costs vs the outrageous prices we currently pay for cell phone, land lines, ISP access and 2) assuring full access, aka net neutrality (assuring no restrictions in Web access or preferences for some Web sites over others as a number of ISPs are proposing is their right to do.

Just letting folks know I'm aware of this thread and will respond when I get a chance....

Allan, we come up with quite a chunk of change for roads with nary a complaint. Chapel Hill could start a world-class municipal network for a lot less than repaving 3 miles of MLK.

BTW, I've been pushing the NPO model that Brian touched on since day one - partially because of policy issues....

Allan,

I recognized that some families cannot afford computers, which would make universal Internet access a hollow victory. That is why, from the beginning, I have advocated acquiring cheap laptop computers (sub $200) as a solution to this problem.

How I propose to do this can be found in my blog, in the October 27, 2005 post titled "Opusculum Paedagogum: Leveling The Playing Field and Transforming the At-Risk Child".

http://mentevidebor.blogspot.com/2005_10_01_mentevidebor_archive.html

Remember, this is only one option. We've got two towns with a lot of brains and a lot of heart. We can do this!

Grrrrrrrr. Now I'm remembering why I resigned from all the committees and boards I used to be on.

J

PS I re-read Brian's excellent diary three times. It doesn't say anything about free . . . so can we please stop worrying about that for now? Almost every public services initiative is eventually refined to reflect special needs. When we get this up and running, it will have to reflect special needs as well. As David said, we can do this.

I for one would like to see a cost-benefit analysis done from the outset. This is public money we are talking about, right? Or is this a totally privately funded endeavor? If it is private money then I am sure the business will be doing a payback analysis of some sort.....but it seems to me like we are talking taxpayers funding this- there is no way to charge-

The local government does not need to be in competition with local utilites, that is for sure, ISPs included. Or maybe we should provide "free" electricity and water too??

I think to refer to internet access as a necessity is ridiculous. Free Wifi is a marketing thing that is great for coffee shops, but I don't see the government needing to have a hand in it, and I would hardly see this as a basic need.

JohnK, aren't you a Carrboro resident now?

One of the problems that keeps coming up in this debate, and I saw this a lot on the campaign trail, is that we're getting hung up by using terms that we can't agree on. "Free WiFi" may or may not be the way to go. "Municipally Provided Internet Access" is a mouthful to say, but I think it's much more in line with a vision that all of us (or at least a majority of us) can agree with. Will is right - the cost of providing a world-class system is somewhere along the scale of paving a small stretch of road.

The arguments for universal Internet access are innumerable, even just within the realm of government accessibility. And unfortunately, the same rate at which innovation progresses for those of us in the know (and in the benefit) is the rate at which the digital divide widens. Every day we fail to make this a priority is a day that we fall behind in the race for equality. We have the resources and the know-how here in southern Orange County to be a national leader on this front - it pains me that bureaucracy and arguments over trivial details are what will likely hold us back.

My 802.11g router which can be reached from part of the Chapel Hill Community Center park is officially open for public consumption. I'm pretty safely firewalled, and your ports and bandwidth are limited, but enjoy. Democracy in action. :)

Willr, not yet, I am counting the days, or is that daze? Why do you ask?

Jason, WIFI all you want, you are paying for it and it is your right to share, and I applaud you for that. You are giving to others. I just don't want to see my tax dollars spent that way.

The taxes argument here is just bogus. There have now been 4-5 individuals saying to drop the word free and let's talk about the utility function of having access to the Internet. Access that is unencumbered by the voracious profit demands of the telecomms & increasingly the telecos. OWASA is a nonprofit organization. You pay for what you get, you get it at a very reasonably price, and the only profit we make is to pay our bills and keep the infrastructure sound and ready to support service area growth. For the life of me, I cannot see why anyone would not embrace a similar business model for a municipal network.

Right now the ISPs and the cable vendors are at each others throats over regulatory inequities. They see the future and it is digital TV and digital phone service; their response is to lobby for the ability to establish differential pricing structures (i.e., Google will need to pay them to deliver video and recipients will need to pay to receive it), asking for favors in limiting competition on services such as VOiP (no VOiP if you use Roadrunner). And all the while our society is progressing to the point where without access to the Internet citizens are restricted in information they need to make informed voting decisions, applying for jobs (you cannot apply for a job with CHCCS without Internet access), paying bills, getting library books, and on and on and on. Anyone who says that Internet access is not a necessity is a dinosaur IMHO.

Kick ass Terri! Thx.

What Will said . . . you go girl!

I've been in business most of my adult life, and if there's one thing I can't stand, it's people arguing that the private sector has some magic elixir that cures all problesm. "Just let competition do it's thing . . . the market will sort it all out." You mean like the market works in healthcare? Or maybe that's not a necessity these days either . . .

I'm not sure wireless on Franklin street or internet access at home is a necessity, yet. I would not equate it with water, energy, food, etc. Maybe I am an evolving triceratops or in need of divine intervention. Everything I do on the Internet I used to do before I had on-line access. And before someone tells me... yes, I enjoy the convenience and efficiency of personal web access.

In efforts to reduce the digital divide, isn't free web access a small part compared to the computer (and replacement hardware/software every few years) and the training to use the computer and internet? Let the discussion begin/continue to address the real issue- technology for everyone, technology education, etc.- and not just free web access.

John, to rehash what I said in the forum for the Board of Alderman appointment: When I was a kid, my dad, who was a crane operator, possessed a love for knowledge like no other. A true autodidact, he strived to teach us the importance of education. One example of this was the fact that we owned three sets of encyclopedia. I would sit and read for hours, taking volume after volume down from the shelves, fascinating pieces of information leading to others. I was addicted. Education came easy with that kind of home environment. All of us excelled in school, not because we were exceptionally bright, but because our natural curiosity was nurtured and we developed a profound love of learning.

My personal goal would be for every kid in these two towns to own a dictionary, a thesaurus, a usuage guide, a gazeteer, a set of encyclopedia, a world factbook, and a library filled with books on accounting, alchemy, agriculture, agronomy, anatomy, anthropology, archaeology, architecture, astronomy, biology, botany, business, calculus, cartography, chemistry, computer science, drama, ecology, economics, education, engineering, english, environmental science, genetics, geometry, german, history, horticulture, humanities, law, literature, mathematics, medicine, meteorology, music, oceanography, paleontology, philosophy, physics, physiology, political science, psychology, public policy, russian, social science, sociology, spanish, statistics, and zoology (I'm looking at my bookcases).

But the cost of that would be too much to bear. And the public library is too far or too daunting or too middle class or too many things for many underprivileged children to visit.

What I CAN do is make it easier for every child to have access to the Internet.

Go to bartleby.com and tell me that this website ALONE is not a valuable resource for a child hungry for knowledge. (And, by the way, the only children who aren't voracious about learning are the ones who have been suppressed, marginalized, devoured, and spit out by an uncaring monolith we have the temerity of calling an educational system.)

If you pride yourself in being a fiscal conservative, you have to believe that a well-educated citizenry is the best investment for the future. There are kids out there, John, who will benefit from this initiative. Kids who deserve every break we can give them because they did not have parents like yours or mine, or resources like we had, or encouragement, or a sense of self-empowerment that the middle class breeds in its progeny.

While we wax philosophic with our tough love talk of hard work, personal responsibility and determination, remember that there are kids out there who have nothing, nobody, and no hope.

"Public policy consists of political decisions for implementing programs to achieve societal goals" (Cochran, Malone). What should be 'societal goals' doesn't always demand compassion and empathy. Such virtues are not needed here, for the strength of the arguments for this technology stands on its own. But sometimes public discourse requires a moral stand. This one is mine.

Roar!!!! That's me, the dinosaur, I am a curmudgeonosaurus. Yep, I still drive a rear wheel drive sedan! One look no farther than that for proof.

For those of us that use the internet it has become a "necessity" but I doubt WIFI will do any good for the folks sleeping in the streets downtown. I think there are much better places to spend our tax dollars. Sorry if you don't agree.

And yes, David, you are right, I am sure some kids will benefit from this, how many and how poor I don't know. Perhaps if the first proposed sites are on Rogers Road or in some apartment complexes then I would feel better.

Dear Mr. Tyrannosaurus Rex,

Please read. There is agreement by everyone but David that this isn't a tax issue. And if you don't think that the homeless people are using the Internet, you should spend some time in either the Chapel Hill Public Library or the Carrboro Cybrary.

Can we please talk about options for making this happen that do not involve taxes? Can we quit looking backward and think about the benefits a municipal network (vs. wifi) have for 1) public safety/emergency management, 2) economic development, 3) education, 4) fill in your own blank.

Dear Terri:

I don't think this is necessarily a tax issue. I'm for keeping our options wide open until committees and advisory boards can be organized. I'm all about due diligence. Making decisions before researching and reviewing all the facts in a transparent and inclusive manner would be irresponsible.

Personally, I think that it's worth the time to talk to John and others and try to convince them of the strength of our arguments. John is hardly a luddite (despite his antiquated jalopy). I personally believe this society would still be in the dark ages without engineering minds like his.

BTW, I am for a Chapel Hill-Carrboro muni network more than just for the positive effects this initiative would have on our community's underprivileged children. I just personally think it's the strongest argument. Terri's mentioned a necessary and sufficient number of benefits to go on with this initiative. We need some board leadership to organize folks in order to do some ground work in determing feasibility, long-term and short-term capital and operating costs, technological standards, expectations, etc.

Does Carrboro have a citizen technology board?

Bringing up the fact that community sponsorship of internet service will cost does not neccesarily make one a reactionary conservative (like curmudgeonosaurus rearwhelldriverectus). I do think it is a good idea and the time has come to investigate it, but I don't see a groundswell of suport for it if taxes go up higher than the annual cost a household currently pays for it. I agree with Terri, wanting to investigate ways to pay for it without raising our taxes doesn't make one against it.

I'm a little amused by the push for free wireless, and, because I very much support it, I think what I'm really saying is that I find my own position kind of amusing.

Let's think for a second about something quite comparable, and whether and to what extent we make it available to the public without charge.

I'm talking telephones. If you're downtown and you want to make a phone call, you don't have to pay for it only if (a) the recipient of your call will pay for it, either by accepting a collect call or by paying for an 800 number; (b) you're calling the operator; or (c) you're calling the police with an emergency. If you want to call Barnes & Noble, you've got to cough up the quarter.

Why should internet access be any different? (Note: I support the idea that it should--please read to the end.)

So why not shoot for a regime in which there's free wireless for reaching the police, and then either (a) get yahoo and amazon and nytimes.com and and porn-porn-porn.com and some of the other heavy-hitters to pay for our puclic access, or (b) expect users to pay for it?

In my case, I think the reason why I support public internet access while I accept (for example) privately purchased telephone access is that I think computers and the internet are cool and fun and cutting-edge and all that, and that they're consistent with some image/aspiration I have in my mind of Chapel Hill as an out-in-front, innovative sort of place.

But honestly, I think there are all sorts of other far more basic human services that have a much better claim for broad public provision than internet access. I just dig internet access more.

(Why, I wonder, aren't towns making the pitch to yahoo et al. that they should be underwriting public access in the same way as other businesses provide 800 numbers? Or are towns doing that?)

Interestingly, Eric, some online businesses ARE working to underwrite public access. Google comes to mind as one. See this artlcle for more background information:

Google offers S.F. Wi-Fi -- for free Company's bid is one of many in response to mayor's call for universal online access

Secondly, in the examples above where Internet access is compared to telephone access, I think we're losing a little bit of the picture. You made a good argument for internet as a communications tool, but I think it also needs to be compared as an information tool, in the same way that a public library might be (and I also note, at a cheaper cost than building a new library). Communication is important, but the primary function my computer serves me (besides entertainment, which is not a function anyone here is arguing for) is the ability to research things. Since I'm a student, I'm not sure if I'm a typical demographic, but in Chapel Hill maybe not so a-typical, either.

That said, if we had the technological minds and regulatory authority to provide free (Brian) or fair-cost (Terri) phone service to everyone in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, we'd probably go about that as well. With VoIP improving constantly, I don't think that's so out-of-reach either, so we'll probably get to rehash the phone argument all over again. :)

And to John: It really wouldn't surprise me if a cost-benefit analysis of providing municipal Internet access didn't provide a net savings to the town in the midrange (3-5 years) future. Even if it didn't pay for itself in town savings, I think a combination of options (a public/private partnership, corporate sponsorship [please don't shoot], or fees for entertainment [high bandwidth]) could easily save the money necessary to keep the project in the black. Heck, the savings of revamping the entire IT department to use Open Source technology and a reasonably written acquistion and replacement policy could likely pay for it, too.

Hey Gary, you wrote: "If you want to call Barnes & Noble, you've got to cough up the quarter." There's been a 40% increase; you now have to cough up a quarter and a dime!

http://www.chccs.k12.nc.us/ITD/ITD/CHCCSNCLBCitrix.pdf
pages 8-10

"CHCCS students can access school resources from any internet-connected computer; as a result, CHCCS has launched an innovative new program called 'Connect 2 School' that provides thin-client computers to students and families that do not have computers at home to ensure equitable access to school and computing resources... From the time that students first request participation in the program, it takes, on average, only two weeks for the district to help students to secure a thin-client computer and internet connection through a local ISP..."

Cari,

The Connect2School is a great program but its facing an increasing common challenge--many homes no longer have land lines. The program combines low cost computers with a very low priced ISP subscription. But if you don't have a land line for your phone, you can't use a dial up connection. That's why the school district has been such a willing participant in pursuing a municipal network.

Excellent editorial by Jason Baker in today's DTH.

We live in an era where jobs, education and even much of our town's government require the Internet to access. Computer ownership and the expensive monthly fees charged by Internet service providers create an obstacle for many people. If you make enough to afford the fee, you have opportunities. If not, you're flat out of luck.

Good job, Jason! Excellent piece of writing.

David B. - not expensive if you want to stream decent quality audio. There's the free icecast server-side software (compatible with SHOUTcast - a somewhat standard supported on most popular computer-based audio programs) that requires modest computer resources to run. If you donated a last generation PC it'd probably work.

Archiving all the streams should only be "expensive" in terms of diskspace...but expense is relative. I just bout 200G HD for $60 - enough to store about 80 hours of high quality OGG VORBIS (open standard audio format) or 140 hours of decent quality MP3.

Thanks much, Will. Sounds pretty darn cheap to me for the town of Carrboro to at least get audio online. Also sounds like streaming video is another story?

Actually Will, I'd assume that we'd archive audio at a bitrate of 112-128 kbps, which ought to store at more like 3000 hours on that $60 hard drive... though I'd assume we'd buy a few for backup purposes rather than trust town history to just one drive, especially if it's consumer-class. I archive the campus Young Democrats' weekly meetings on my server at 64 kbps, which is fine for voice quality, and I imagine it will be several years before I need to worry about slapping on another hard drive.

The bandwidth might get to be an issue, though. I was heading out of town the weekend before last and wanted to print out some pages from the Alderman applications for my DTH column. It took me the better part of half an hour to download a relatively small PDF because of the number of people streaming the interview video off of Carrboro's site. We can't assume that even when we do get a world-class municipal network here that all requests are going to be from somewhere on the local network, and both towns ought to consider beefing up their outbound lines.

Though, I hear iBiblio has a pretty big pipe out of town and that they sometimes even share their bandwidth for the purpose of free and open sharing and storage. Paul? :)

A few weeks ago I created an online petition that requests the Chapel Hill Town Council help create a public municipal network. Here is what it says:

To: Chapel Hill Town Council

The time has come for the Town of Chapel Hill to build a free, community-owned, public municipal network. The network should have wireless access and provide an open, unfiltered, and unmonitored connection to the Internet available to ALL people. It must be maintained by a local nonprofit for the people of Chapel Hill. Not by a private business or corporation.

We request that the Chapel Hill Town Council act swiftly to bring this service to the people.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

Please go to this url - http://www.petitiononline.com/chwifi/petition.html - and sign it if you haven't already. People who aren't citizens of Chapel Hill are welcome to sign it. Thank You!

According to today's Chapel Hill News, the chair of the CH Technology committee said "Carrboro spent about $800,000 connecting a fiber-optic cable from the Century Center to Town Hall, Gerdau said. From there, it was very inexpensive to set up antennae to allow wireless Internet access in downtown."

I checked with Steve Stewart (town manager) and Mayor Mike and they said it cost around $50,000 to lay the fiber between Town Hall and the Century Center (many years ago) and less than $8,000 for the antennae and routers to set up the wireless.

I read a 2004 FCC report recently that quoted $3.94/foot for shielded, underground high grade 48 strand/multimode fibre suitable for deployment in Maine. This is heavy duty metro-loop type cable - way, way beyond our current needs.

I've seen quotes of $0.25/$0.30 per foot for single strand multi-mode - something equivalent to what NC-DOT would lay down for us during the signalized intersection upgrade.

Let's say you're looking 20 years out and you think we're going to eat capacity at an escalating rate (something that didn't pan out over the DOT.com era but something I think will happen). You go for the giga-expensive option @ $4 per linear foot buried or roughly $20K per mile if you've already dug the hole.

Next time they open Rosemary from Carrboro to Downtown Chapel Hill (say with the NC-DOT upgrade) we might want to spring $40K to equip our commercial sector with more capacity than we can imagine currently using (except if we're imaginative and encourage tech companies to move on down). I think that $40K would be a better expenditure than, say, $40K worth of new Christmas ornaments.

For other sectors of Town, go with the cheapie option - you're looking at $1500 per mile. We're about to drop 10-15-20 times that per mile on greenways construction - seems to me the incremental addition is a wise investment.

Will--Laurin Easthom petitioned the Council back in June to adopt the policy of laying conduit for fiber anytime a roadway/sidewalk/greenway was opened up, similar to the current Streetscape policy (they require 4 lines of conduit--although there is no enforcement). When I left the Technology Committee in December, the staff had still not reported back to either the Committee or the Council on that petition.

That policy had been advocated for within the TechComm for nearly 3 years by the time Laurin petitioned the Council. Even the more conservative members of the TechComm thought we missed a golden opportunity when the west end of Franklin was repaved a couple of years ago.

Terri, that is a HUGE discrepency between what was reported and the information you got. Do you have any idea why those numbers are so different? I read that news article and found myself scratching my head and wondering why people, including you, kept saying that it was "inexpensive" to do if it cost Carrboro 800K for that small service area. Those kinds of discrepencies as part of our dialogue are some of what is making it very difficult for the average person in our community to even understand the basics. Someone should follow up with the reporter, the CH Technology Chair, and the Town of Carrboro and see if the details can get straightened out and reported accurately.

I agree Anita. That's why I did follow up with the Town of Carrboro last night. I would not have reported the discrepancy without having verified my facts. The other fact from that article that needs to be challenged is the claim that it will cost $150,000 per square mile. That's an old figure and it's generalized over several times of deployment models.

Terri's correct, the $150K/sq mile is a bogus number based on a "study" by telco mouthpiece JupiterResearch. Even so, the reports findings are often misquoted. Their figures?

The report estimates that the average cost of building and maintaining a municipal wireless network is $150,000 per square mile over five years.

Or, roughly $30K per year over 5 years for both installation, maintenance and operation of the network. Anyone in the tech business will recognize that as deployment of municipal oriented networks accelerates the costs will drop rapidly.

Using a more realistic figure, such as Tropos' 2004 RFP for Philly, we see a vendor derived figure of roughly $75K per square urban mile for buildout (transmitters, towers, backhaul, endpoint routers, etc.) with the 5-year operational costs boosting the per square mile to $100K. This is urban Philly in 2004 - before WiMax was a standard.

Taipei, another urban deployment, is covering 109 sq/mi. with 3300 Nortel mesh access points for $68M - or $630K per square ! But this is an extremely high density network consisting of 3300 mesh access points ( 30 per square ) designed to handle high capacity urban traffic (10's to 100's of thousands concurrent users per square). I think this represents the high high end of costs today.

Current WiMax costs are dropping since the standard was firmed up. I've seen per square mile costs, backhaul in all, of less than $16K.

Of course, Terri, Brian, myself and others are arguing for a municipal network built on a variety of technologies - from meshed APs @ $30 per AP per 1/5 square mile to two $15K WiMax stations per 2 square miles to opportunisticly laying fiber at $0.25 to $4 per linear foot.

Now, for all the folk out there questioning the detailed costs, I've got a couple questions for you? How much does a square mile of 2" asphalt over a 4" base cost? How much does 100' of linear concrete sidewalk built to Chapel Hill spec cost? How much does Duke charge us per light pole per year?

Terri's correct, the $150K/sq mile is a bogus number based on a "study" by telco mouthpiece JupiterResearch. Even so, the reports findings are often misquoted. Their figures?

The report estimates that the average cost of building and maintaining a municipal wireless network is $150,000 per square mile over five years.

Or, roughly $30K per year over 5 years for both installation, maintenance and operation of the network. Anyone in the tech business will recognize that as deployment of municipal oriented networks accelerates the costs will drop rapidly.

Using a more realistic figure, such as Tropos' 2004 RFP for Philly, we see a vendor derived figure of roughly $75K per square urban mile for buildout (transmitters, towers, backhaul, endpoint routers, etc.) with the 5-year operational costs boosting the per square mile to $100K. This is urban Philly in 2004 - before WiMax was a standard.

Taipei, another urban deployment, is covering 109 sq/mi. with 3300 Nortel mesh access points for $68M - or $630K per square ! But this is an extremely high density network consisting of 3300 mesh access points ( 30 per square ) designed to handle high capacity urban traffic (10's to 100's of thousands concurrent users per square). I think this represents the high high end of costs today.

Current WiMax costs are dropping since the standard was firmed up. I've seen per square mile costs, backhaul in all, of less than $16K.

Of course, Terri, Brian, myself and others are arguing for a municipal network built on a variety of technologies - from meshed APs @ $30 per AP per 1/5 square mile to two $15K WiMax stations per 2 square miles to opportunisticly laying fiber at $0.25 to $4 per linear foot.

Now, for all the folk out there questioning the detailed costs, I've got a couple questions for you: How much does a square mile of 2" asphalt over a 4" base cost? How much does 100' of linear concrete sidewalk built to Chapel Hill spec cost? How much does Duke charge us per light pole per year?

Ok - perhaps this is off topic and I haven't read this thread closely, but I've tried to push Carrboro to get board meetings streamed on the internet and the pushback is that it's more difficult and more expensive than it seems (something to do with bandwidth and other techie words that mean little to me). I think this is an important concern and I certainly think that if we can't get to BOA meetings online then how are we going to tackle bigger projects like "free internet access."

So, techies, how hard and expensive is this? any idea? And should we be able to convince TWC to help with it if it is that hard?

Thanks Jason. I was talking top quality captures but 64kbps is really adequate.

Carrboro could've helped themselves by offering the video as a BitTorrent download so folks could share it around. Still, the slow streaming makes a good argument for improving their muni-network. I imagine most of the folks watching the video were local so the traffic could've been isolated to their locally owned backbone - channeled over their Wifi network - and not cost them one dime for funneling over their Internet connection ;-)

BitTorrent would have been great for video sharing. I give my best wishes in explaining .torrents to our Alder(wo/)men and Council Members, much more the majority of the town. Of course, I'm only playing the devil's advocate. I'd love to see it happen.

the aldermen don't need to understand if they can just get the Carrboro IT folks working with y'all. Do you know Andy Vogel? I think he's the key staff person with the town.

Granted, a lot of changes can be made by working with various departmental folks. In a more general sense, though, the whole idea behind doing something like this is to "open up" government to make it more accessible to more people. For one item, surely the town staff can implement things without Alderperson intervention. But on a cumulative value, I think it's important - essential even - for the folks at every level, not just in the IT department, to understand what we're doing and why we're doing it.

One of the biggest concerns in all of this talk of municipal networking, to me, is that we're going to get a great technical infrastructure in place and end up with a tiny minority of the population equipped and educated to use it. In terms of dollars and personhours, I wonder if the real debate should be over who's going to build and maintain everything, or who's going to train and support everything. I'm starting to aim towards the latter, and I welcome ideas from everyone pertaining to the education side of IT.

Jason, You're so very right on that. Here's an excerpt from my letter of resignation from the Tech Committee:

--In order to achieve social and economic equity, the planning process for a wireless/municipal network must address not only the technical network structure, but also a process for assuring computer access (such as the completed EmPOWERment transfer) to those who cannot afford it, and a training program to assure that everyone within the community, especially the elderly and homebound, have the skills necessary to use the network.

--Should the Council choose to pursue wireless networking on a smaller scale, like the public housing project you authorized in November, I recommend that the next implementation be directed at the Northside Senior Center (410 Caldwell). According the Pew Internet Life program, "the percent of seniors who go online has jumped by 47% between 2000 and 2004." Senior citizens are increasingly relying upon Internet resources for understanding health care issues and for facilitating more informed participation in their own health care management. The seniors who utilize the Northside Senior Center would clearly benefit from a wireless Internet lab located at their facility, and possibly from some well-prepared teenagers to help them acquire the skills needed to use it.

BTW, I also emphasized that the Town is in desperate need of an officially acknowledged (ie funded) technology plan. The Tech Committee was told by the mayor and manager back in June that they didn't consider what we presented to them last April to be a plan from which they could work. The last time Chapel Hill had a technology plan was 2000 and it was never implemented in a systematic process. Staff picked over what was easy, cheap, and within their in-house skill set.

I'm told Carrboro does have a technology plan but I've never looked at it.

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