What are your questions about Mobile Media?

Here in southern Orange County we have a lot to be proud about when it comes to community resources. For example we have a fantastic bus system, public meeting places, community art, and municipal wireless Internet access a.k.a. wifi. The great thing about wifi is the massive diversity of its uses. Not only can you send email or surf the World Wide Web you can also learn from the experiences of millions of people. Our increased connectedness to one another electronically augments our individual power. When we "speak" with each other with software tools - like Orange Politics - we share energy with each other. This energy empowers us to be become better at many things. So in thanks and respect for all that I've learned from you all I'd like to give some back.

Next week I will be blogging and podcasting an executive seminar in Los Angeles called Mobile Media: Media Opportunities and Strategies for the Mobile, Broadband Generation. While I'm at the seminar I would like to represent our community. By asking questions from more minds than my own I can not only ask better questions but I can give back to our community knowledge bank. Also I can brag on how even small southern towns - like Carrboro - are on the cutting edge of community broadband technology.

What questions and concerns do you have about the future of mobile and broadband wireless technology? In any area such as: future technology, business, public policy, the digital divide, etc.

Brian Russell is a media activist and podcaster on his blog AudioActivism.org.




You asked "Who benefits from municipal wireless?" I'd like to suggest that there are benefits for everyone from a municipal network. From what I can tell, municipal wireless initiatives such as Carrboro's are great for people with laptops who want to use the Internet while dining or sipping coffee. But economic development and other benefits can be derived from a more robust municipal network--one built upon a fiber backbone and then distributed via wireless. For example, in communities such as Ashland KY, Burlingame VT, San Diego CA, citizens can receive their cable, telephone, and internet access via the municipal network at a fraction of the cost we currently pay to individual vendors of these services.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was *supposed* to ensure greater competition in the delivery of telecom services. Although more corps have entered the field, the additional competition hasn't lower the cost of services. The telecom corps have simply manipulated the supply/demand balance by creating unwieldy *packages* of cable services, instead of giving individuals the freedom to pick and choose the channels they want (or can afford). Now with the blending of cable, internet, and phone, that same packaging approach is raising the cost rather than lowering it. Recent FCC decisions to reduce local oversight of fee structures will probably cause access fees to go even higher.

Municipal networks are local strategies to bring the market back into balance and to ensure that the information, on which our society is so dependent, is more affordable to all citizens. Addressing the issues Brian raises, computer access and training, are critical elements of the local strategy. In the communities I mentioned above, citizens are able to access the three digital services (cable, internet, phone) for between $24-40 per month. Each of these communities has a different business model for their network. Burlingame VT runs their muninet as a town-operated utility. Other communities (my preference) follow a public-private partnership approach.

The Carrboro wireless network is a great start to a service that could introduce many many new opportunities to our community. Such a service would drastically lower the operational costs for town services, the school systems, local businesses, and individuals. By lowering basic costs, we would be able to expand service to those who currently do not have access but installing public kiosks within local businesses, etc.

In Chapel Hill, the Technology Advisory Committee is looking into how we can build on the momentum Carrboro has created to create a true muninet. Stay tuned......

Those are great questions. They are very important ones to ask when working to provide Internet access for everyone. I will keep these in mind when doing interviews this week.


From my perspective, we're building the network infrastructure for everyone. The network that Carrboro is creating can benefit public computer labs like the Cybrary and people using their laptops at Weaver St. WiFi *is* a cool hype word right now. We shouldn't let it's popularity distract us. There is so much more involved when we discuss municipal networks. WiFi is just the last few hundred feet (plus) of the long journey that data takes to get to you. This last bit is very important in getting as many people possible access. Whether it's with or with out wires.

I have heard of efforts underway to get Internet access to more neighborhoods in Carrboro. The real value of access is when as many different kinds of people utilize it. This connectivity will be little more than a attempt at attracting more businesses to Carrboro, unless we provide free public Internet access to all, free or inexpensive computers, and address technology literacy.

Computer equipment can be expensive and is a financial barrier to many people. But this can be over come by public programs that donate used desktop and laptop computers to folks in need. Right now the bigger barrier is many people's lack of fundamental computer skills. Technology changes very fast, so the amount of information on how to use computers increases exponentially. The big challenge is to increase the number of people out there helping others learn how to use computers and find the info they need on Internet. Raising computer literacy levels in ALL CITIZENS will increase there participation in democracy, help them find jobs, increase self confidence, and exercise there most valuable personal tool...their brain.

Digital divide?

My question is:

How safe is mobile and wireless broadband? Are we safe from hackers/virus etc?

I recently purchased a Treo 600 Smartphone (which I love). I was hesitant about buying the 650 because I had heard about security problems with bluetooth technology. I don't know what bluetooth is (i'm guessing the wireless headphones?)...

What does the antivirus/firewall situation look like for mobile/wireless broadband...does it exist? Should I get it?


I've had a Treo 600 since they first came out. Before that the 180g and before that the Visor Phone. No problems with infections or other baddies. Unless you are downloading files etc you will not have any problems and you don't need a firewall or the like.
Occassionally I do get an odd character in email that causes the mail program to reboot. That's not a major problem tho.
Bluetooth is just a very local wireless protocol. For the Treo, you'd mostly use it for a wireless headset or to link your Treo to your computer for back ups. Unless you like to walk around looking like a small spaceship has landed on your ear, you don't much need the headset. If you do the chance of infection is still at the moment very very small to non-existent.

Thanks so much for your input. That puts my mind at ease.


Here is one definition of the "Digital Divide".

"The gap that exists between those who have and those who do not have access to technology (telephones, computers, Internet access) and related services."
source: http://www.contentbank.org/tools/glossary.asp

Does donating 4 older (but not useless) cell phones to the Women's Rape Crisis Center on Estes count as contributing to the digital divide? Cause I did and I hope it helps bigtime...

And if it does, where can I donate my 3 year old laptop?


I think making donations of tech to organizations who serve people in need counts as helping to bridge the digital divide.

As far as your laptop...I suggest that you donate it to the Triangle United Way's program Teaming for Technology. http://triangleunitedway.org/

Reuse of tech, like computer donation and refurbishing, is one of the best ways to help others gain access to all the info available online.

Brian, you asked for questions, so here's mine. Who benefits from municipal wireless? Businesses in downtown areas that have wifi? People in coffee shops in those downtown areas? The Carrboro wireless network doesn't go much beyond downtown. Could that money be better invested in having more free public Internet terminals (which don't require owning an expensive laptop)? Is something like the Cybrary a better investment?

I realize muncipal broadband is the cutting edge, and it feels cool, but could we better serve the needier memebers of our community? These questions sound skeptical, but I am truly interested in the answers either way.

Here are all my reports from the Mobile Media conference mentioned in my guest post above. Hope they prove valuable to you.

First Day Notes
Second Day Notes
Third Day Notes

Interview with Dan Smith about Serious Games
+ When 3D games and real education meet

Interview with Howard Owens about Public Wifi
+ How should wireless be implemented: Municipal, Private, Corporate

Interview with Mike Outmesguine about Wi-Fi security
+ Some of the best ways to secure Wi-Fi networks


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