Weigh in on wi-fi

Guest Post by James Protzman

The idea of communitiy wi-fi is emerging as a potential local election issue -- and would seem to warrant broader public discussion as well.

Some say wi-fi should be a purely commercial undertaking left to the private sector. Others (like me, for example) see wireless connectivity as an increasingly critical part of community infrastructure -- similar to sidewalks, parks and public safety -- services that support the common good.

My view is simple: we cannot allow the issue of connectivity to become yet another element in the growing "digital divide." That is, no one should be disadvantaged for not having resources to buy high-speed access for their homes and families.

There are plenty of ways to think about this and many experiments going on around the country. Some of them are reported here . . . and I'm sure there are other good resources. If you know of any, please share them.

One more thought: Could funding for wireless infrastructure be factored into discussions and proposals about new developments? For example, negotiated "payments in lieu" need not go only to open space, sidewalks, or curbs and gutter. They could also go toward funding the kind of wireless connectivity that helps build community.

Your thoughts?



There have been at least 3 OP discussions on wireless:


Ruby--anyway to make links to previous discussions part of the default template, like the categories?

Not without some significant engineering or manual labor, Terri. I think you've done a adequate job of tying in other conversations by linking to them. I would just add this newest bunch of comments from the post on candidate forums. It starts around ere: http://orangepolitics.org/2005/09/candidate-forums/#comment-27223

Hi Terry.

Thanks for the links. Despite my enthusiasm for the blogosphere, I'm afraid I'm not very good at mining the depths of OP for previous discussions. I'll check out those earlier threads.

Or in the words of somebody . . . maybe Gilda Radner on the old Saturday Night Lives . . .

. . . nevermind.


Well, I'm glad we're discussing this again because I've never paid attention before. Maybe I'll learn something...

Will, earlier you wrote "... where municipal networks have been installed, the typical cost of phone, Internet and cable has dropped to the $40 a month range. We're all paying a monopoly tax for basic communication services."

Can someone explain the costs of maintaining fiber networks and wireless infrastructure? Is the initial infrastructure basically a one-time cost--- but private companies keep charging for infrastructure far beyond the point when infrastructure is paid for? How much maintenance is involved? Is fiber more reliable than WiFi?

That is, no one should be disadvantaged for not having resources to buy high-speed access for their homes and families.
What critical services do high speed broadband offer that people can't get from a $15 dial-up Internet connection?


If you're trying to download a large PDF to read as part of a high school research paper, for example, it is prohibitaviely slow on a dial up connection.

My concerns with the whole downtown Wi-Fi in both towns are

1- It only reaches those who can afford to live in the posh downtown neighborhoods or those who can afford a laptop - so it really doesn't benefit the disadvantaged.

2- There needs to be some sort of community program to distribute computers at low cost to those families that need them, since the internet is useless without it.

The way both towns are addressing the issue now, it looks much more like a bene for the downtown "haves" and not much benefit to the "have nots" the local pols have been talking about.

Laurin Easthom was the first candidate to advocate for public wireless to close the digital divide.

published in the Herald in June...

and then click on "wireless internet"

I think that the existence of a "digital divide" is still quite debateable, quite honestly. In this area, we have much bigger, actual social problems, such as a "real estate divide".


It is worth noting that this initial focus on wireless is not focused just on the downtown "haves." In fact, both downtowns have abutting neighborhoods where many residents could be described as "have nots" -- See e.g., Llyod St., Northside and Pineknolls. In the Spring the Council took up a petition for downtown wireless that encourages a downtown focus that broadly covers these neighborhoods. It is my belief that support amongst sitting Council members for this project is as strong as it is because of the inclusion of these downtown neighborhoods that have a larger proportion of residents earning below the median income.

Helena, Laurin was the first official candidate to advocate Wifi but my call for Wifi to bridge the digital divide predates hers (just to clarify) by some time. For instance, as noted here and here.

I welcome Laurin's and Jason's advocacy on this issue - the more the merrier.

Katrina, we have a number of organizations prepared to help us distribute computers, train users, train the trainers, etc. For instance, Mark Peters is a member of a group that is working with the schools on just these issues.

Sorry WillR - you clarified what I meant.
As an official candidate I think Laurin was the first public (at least challenger) to advocate it..

When Robin starts advocating public wi-fi that's another story...

Frank, every year software developers create enhanced multimedia applications for the Internet. Improved connectivity and the recent surge in the number of high speed Internet users have created market incentives for Internet innovation. These applications promise to increase the educational and informational value of the Internet in ways we are just now beginning to understand and visualize. The Internet is wide-open, and what we can do with it is limited only by our imagination and the vision and will of politicians as stewards of the community to increase accessibility of this public good. How many of us pre-1994 even possessed the vision of an Internet, much less the things we can now do with it?

I think it's impossible to have a meaningful discussion on this subject without considering whether high-speed Internet access is a public or a private good.


Internet access, I believe is a public good, just likes parks, street signs, traffic lights, libraries, and clean air.

Among many other arguments for defining it as a public good, Its absence hurts poor people who cannot afford it and leaves unchecked a vital component of the poverty cycle: inaccessibility to information.

Public goods can be provided by the government, or by civil society or business interests. When the government allows a business interest (and to a lesser extent civil society) to provide a public good, it must do so with the awareness that regulatory oversight is essential in checking the natural market impulses of profit maximization. This is true of public goods particularly because such goods are ripe for non-competitive markets like monopolies and oligopolies.

I know we all know this, and I apologize for the economics review, but I feel that it's important to frame this discussion.


No problem Helena. While I might have jumped into the race very late, I have been working a number of issues, including Wifi, for some time. Laurin was right there in here support and her editorial exposed the human-side of the equation.

It's fantastic to see the traction this issue is getting among all the candidates and I look forward to making some real progress on muni-networking in the short-term.

Now, I think I have the jump on everyone as far as calling for the repeal of the Stormwater Utility fee, the issuance of quarterly economic report cards on the Towns fiscal activities and making Downtown family friendlier by siting a world-class play structure in a prominent location.

I think it's impossible to have a meaningful discussion on this subject without considering whether high-speed Internet access is a public or a private good.
I agree completely. That's why I'm challening the assumption at least in this forum that high speed Internet connectivity is a "public good". I think it's something that really can't be taken for granted, even today. As someone who was involved in the Net long before the Web came into existence, I fell like I've seen the Net largely devolve into the mess that it is today. I'm questioning what *specifically* can the public derive benefit from that is so critical that the gov't should even considering providing access. Is shopping a "public good"? Is spam a "public good"? Is pornography a "public good"?
And even if this is a public good, is Wi-Fi really the way to go? Is it even feasable outside of a small area?

What critical services do high speed broadband offer that people can't get from a $15 dial-up Internet connection?

A dialup connection requires a landline. Many families have cell phones as their only phone service. Add a $13 dialup acct to whatever basic phone service costs, and you've got $300-400/year in extra expenses.

Even when families have dialup, there are often siblings and extended family who reside in the same apartment who compete for the phone line, reducing the availability.

I have been advocating this from a student-first point of view. Every student should have access to the internet, preferably an always-on, low latency, high speed connection to facilitate high-quality server-based computing that the chccs district is using.

We should start with the highest density low income areas when providing wireless access, or at least do those simultaneous to providing business-oriented service.

Frank--how much does Phydeaux pay monthly for telecommunications? How soon do you think it will be (if it hasn't already happened) before credit card/checking information will be sent digitally instead of over the phone? What savings do you get by banking online (including paying bills)?

While many of us support the concept of a municipal network as a public good in order to provide access to low income households, I also feel that it should have equal weight as an economic development tool. Rents are out of control in south Orange, putting formidable barriers in front of small businesses. But if we can reduce monthly telecomm costs through the provision of infrastructure (broadband) that includes telephone and Internet, and that infrastructure supports residents as well, isn't that a win-win situation for everyone? Residents get service as well as the tax control that comes from increased business activity. Businesses lower their overhead. And on top of all that our government operations are improved (police/EMS, public works, planning, stormwater--all departments that have been able to reduce costs and/or improve services in other communities).

Thanks Terri for dropping the other shoe. Increasing the technological profile of Chapel Hill to encourage economic development is one of the primary reasons for deploying a muni-network. But, unlike a number of initiatives that exclusively benefit one section of the community, say business, over another, say the underserved, we have an excellent opportunity to achieve two goals with one implementation - and at a price point that's incredibly attractive especially when contrasted with 700' of reworked sidewalk.

The only thing I want to add to Terri's list (at least for now) is the opportunity to develop new kinds of business models. Ubiquitous communication, like the cellphone, has paved the way for a whole new category of business efficiencies, capabilities and services.

I am elated to see how much attention wireless access is getting! As said after the Democratic Women's forum, regardless of who ends up getting elected what really matters is the future of Chapel Hill; and town wide wireless access is a step in the right direction. Will (and I know Laurin mentioned it as well) - You're defiantly on the right track when you were writing about, “using WiMAX as a backhaul for the system.” I got a chance to speak with WiMax Systems at the CED's Venture 2005 in April about the feasibility of a town wide network, and a hybrid between WiMax and 802.11 is exactly what they suggested. I also had an opportunity to speak with Dan Reid about the matter, and in light of the current conversations, I am very enthusiastic that it will soon become a reality.

To echo and expand on some of the reason why Chapel Hill needs to implement a town wide wireless network:

1)Education/access to information is one of the best ways to improve one's standard of living.

2)While dial-up may suffice for the most basic of applications, large bandwidth is essential to fully realizing the potential of the internet. Especially as all forms of communication and media converge; vis-à-vis VOIP, MP3s, Web cast, Streaming video/radio, e-publications, distance learning, and any other applications that involve large amounts of data.

3)In addition to the social good that is achieved by providing access, another there is also the ability to donate you computer's idle time to scientific research. Ever since I've had my desktop I have used Google compute to help researchers understand the inner workings of proteins. [http://folding.stanford.edu/]

4)Wireless internet would also further unite our community through interactive sites and online forums; Orange Politics being a great example.

5)Although capitalism has and will continue to improve our society through many technological advances, the primary role of a business is to do well while the role of government is to do good. Much like the environment, it would be naive to think that companies would have changed their harmful practices were in not for the will of society through government intervention. Similarly, while it would be great if Time Warner pursued wireless access, they are much happier to collect $40+ from each household for as long as they can. Thankfully the infrastructure and deployment cost are reaching the point where we won't have to be a billion dollar multinational to offer access to the internet.

For these and MANY other reasons, (Realizing that by virtue of reading this you understand the benefits of the internet much more than someone who has never had it) I believe that it is the duty of the Town Council to pursue a strategy that has the ultimate goal of wireless being available throughout Chapel Hill.

I remember talking about how much of a disruptive technology WiMax was going to be in my Emerging Technology in Business class almost two years ago, and I'm glad that it is now really starting to get traction.

Terri: Wireless really will have -zero- impact on economic development for several reasons.
1. If a company can afford to pay rent in downtown Carrboro or Chapel Hill, paying for Internet service ($50-60/month) is really negligible. Certainly no business is going to make a decision to locate here based on being able to save a few dollars a month on wireless, while paying through the nose in rent.
2. Wireless is not something that a company can rely on to do business with. If a business needs high speed broadband (such as our business), then wireless is simply too slow and too unreliable to be a replacement for a wired service.
3. Individuals who use the service certainly don't need it, since they're already wealthy enough to be able to afford laptop computers (ie: I can't afford a laptop computer). Individuals who *need* (and I still contend that this has not been proven) Net access need it at home, plugged in to their $300 Wal-Mart PC's. Either that, or they can come to town hall/the fire station/the Century Center and use of of the public computers already there.
Wireless is certainly a hot buzzword, and it's certainly trendy, but I have yet to see a good, solid argument as to why it's needed and what and whom it will benefit.

Frank--your response confirms my suspicion that we need to provide more education on how a municipal network using wireless would work. The Carrboro wireless network as it is currently implemented does not provide commercial economic development opportunities, but there are other ways to engineer the network that would provide businesses with reliable high speed, broadband access. If local business owners immediately assume that a wireless network is only for coffee drinkers, we will never make any progress.

Municipal networks are laying the foundation for economic development all over this country. North Carolina is behind the curve--when we used to be out in front. Chapel Hill/Carrboro, in partnership with UNC, the Chamber, the school systems and local nonprofits, need to step up and take a leadership role. (rushing out...looking forward to seeing candidate responses)

What kind of installation and monthy costs are we talking about for what is being proposed? Where do supporters see it fitting into the range of public goods that also must be funded in this stressed fiscal environment? Does something else come off the budget table, or do we raise taxes to pay for it?

Are the candidates who support doing this on their watch willing to give voters their specific answers to these questions?

Note that there are a couple of opposing bills working their way through Congress. The "Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005" (H.R. 2726), sponsored by Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX), would make it more difficult for cities to implement wireless plans. An opposing bill, the "Community Broadband Act of 2005" (S. 1294), sponsored by Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Senator McCain (R-AZ), would give municipalities more leeway in building Wi-Fi zones.

Not hard to figure out which bill the telecommunications companies favor.

Thanks Fred,
This is a BIG piece missing from the discussion. Have Town staffs researched your questions?
Also, do our Towns work with the power companies to get electrical wiring placed underground? Is there any long range plan to get all power company wires underground?

Fred and Mary, there's been extensive descriptions and discussions of the topology, the costs, the reasons for, the urgency to deploy, etc. municipal networking by Terri B., myself, candidates in the current race (Laurin, Jason, Mark, Rutherfurd) and many other posters on OP over the last year and a half.

Ruby has placed a nice search widget on the right column of her 'blog and keywords like "wireless", "wifi", "network" will help you find those comments.

Some very preliminary investigations have been done by one Town staff member, the results of which will be greatly expanded upon by the Technology Board. Those investigations were narrowly focused on technical issues related to deploying into Northside/Pink Knolls and used an inappropriate,in my estimation, technical model. The research also didn't account for seizing every opportunity for deployment.

Pound for pound, municipal networking is one of the most cost effective services a municpality can support. The money allocated for 700' of reworking an adequate stretch of sidewalk in front of University Square could easily fund both the install and maintenance of a network capable of covering a significant portion of Town.

Municipal networking isn't just about the technology. It's also about creating an end-to-end social and economic benefit - both which actually can be combined by using solutions pioneered in other locales. I've spoken of creating a "new economy" eco-system that serves ALL our citizens and acts as a catalyst in developing new employment opportunities.

Fred, the question is "shouldn't we be using our stressed financial resources as wisely as possible?" The return on this investment is substantial and fiscally sound.

Yes Will, I have read the prior comments and they don't answer the specific questions that I raised. Maybe you can point me to them and/or provide your answers.

Hoping to reallocate money from one project to fund another is not a solution. Hope is not a method.


There are several possible business models we could adopt. For example, OWASA uses a cost of service approach. Transit is heavily subsidized through federal and state grants. Private/public partnerships use loan or bond money to develop the infrastructure and then use subscription fees to make the payments. In some communities, the network is created through a contract (price regulation) between the town and one or more telecomms/ISP. Lots of choices. To create a sustainable network we will need relatively stable income so I don't think you should anticipate that the TechComm will recommend adding this as a new town service to an already overextended budget. Think cost recovery!

Thanks Terri. That helps. I think that the candidates who advocate for this should put some meat on the bones of their proposal.

When I chaired the Library Board, we went from nopublic use computers to some, and now we have even more. The demand is clearly there. I'm just not sure where this should fit into our priorities.

Thanks to James for raising this issue.

I think that we're entering an amazing era of computer-supported collaboration and communication. As I read this discussion, I've been listening to a podcast from WNYC in NY. Recently I've been watching a lot more downloaded videos, many made by ordinary people. The amount of news I consume has risen exponentially with the use of RSS feeds and podcasts.

I think that the benefits of a free municipal wireless network are hard to predict but I have no doubt that they will come, particularly if the local network allows folks to provide as well as consume content (i.e., use our computers as servers).

Look at all the video activity in the community already, all the music, all the software, all the discussions. Imagine that more of it could be consumed on demand from home.

I believe that WiMAX supports very high speed connections (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wimax). We could be chatting instead of typing! Ruby could figure out new ways to keep everyone under control - maybe pass around a virtual talking stick or something. Let a 1000 OrangePolitics.org bloom!!

-- ge

Though I'm a computer design engineer, I'm gonna remain from Missouri on this for a while. Will one of the proponents
please explain to me how a municipal wifi system will fit
with the town staff organization. Which department
will manage it? Who on the town staff has the expertise?
If we assume that the design and installation of the system
is contracted out, who within the town will inspect it,
approve it, and manage its maintenance and expansion?
What will its monthly costs be?

Many of us come equipped with the UNC attitude, that
communications stuff like this is magic and free, and that
the internet is a God-given right, supported and paid for
by some nebulous group somewhere. UNC has very large
and expensive IT and communications staffs, a 130,000
sq ft building for them now under construction, and it
is that staff and substantial funding that makes it
all happen. The town has very little, with the consequence
that muni-wifi will have an expensive ramp-up.

Joe--this is exactly what I'm trying to understand--- thanks for articulating it better than I have!

As I said earlier, I don't think this should be part of the town's organizational structure. In fact, in the two years I've been working on this, I have never heard anyone say it should become another town department.

George gives the best reason why we need to view this as a community development tool (in addition to the economic development reasons). Those who don't have access to broadband do not have the same access to the news, political thought, communications tools for civic participation. The major network news organizations just don't tell the whole story--you have to be able to check multiple sources to truly understand the world issues today.

Joe, I'm still hoping that some of the candidate/advocates will answer the questions that I raised yesterday. I hope that they respond to yours as well.

Some partnership with UNC would be the ideal situation.
UNC has tried to roll out campus wide wifi but it is still in progress.

all the UNC student rich apartments along MLK and elsewhere are natural areas to try to team up with UNC to do this...

and as you probably know Carrboro did wifi on weaver street for a 5,000$ initial investment.

and as you probably know Carrboro did wifi on weaver street for a 5,000$ initial investment.
Actually, I don't think that any of Weaver St. is covered. There's wireless in and around the Town Hall, the Fire Station, and the Century Center. The signal doesn't go very far past the outside of any of these buildings, and it's quite spotty (nothing that anybody could rely on).

Frank -- weaver street market has good wi-fi that it pays for.

lots of businesses pay for their own wifi... My point between businesses already paying for wifi, UNC doing wifi and the Town together I'd bet the only person worried about the cost is timewarner aol and the cash cow that is chapel hill....that they stand to lose.

Frank, Weaver Street Market is very well covered. I use the wifi there all the time. Also, I think Community Realty (across the street from you?) has wifi. BTW, I just noticed that Fosters' Market on MLK Blvd in Chapel Hill has it as well.

Isn't just a matter of how and when we offer wifi at this point? It seems silly not to.

That Coffee Place on MLK at Homestead has signs in the window that they pay for wifi.

The big student apartment complex on MLK across from Horace williams had signs that said sign a lease get free wi - fi...

It's an obvious thing to do and that's why people like Easthom and WillR have my support they are thinking down the road not just tomorrow ( but they can do that too.). I assume that's why the UNC students ' group probably endorsed them to over some other "progressive" types...

Frank, Weaver Street Market is very well covered. I use the wifi there all the time. Also, I think Community Realty (across the street from you?) has wifi. BTW, I just noticed that Fosters' Market on MLK Blvd in Chapel Hill has it as well.
What do private businesses offering wireless to their customers have to do with a municipality providing wi-fi to its residents? I thought that we were discussing the rationale, feasability, cost, etc. of Chapel Hill and/or Carrboro offering wi-fi to the public...?

WSM is basically offerring the Town of Carrboro's wireless network. It appears that they have installed their own antennas to amplify the signal, but the network I connect to is TOCwireless.

WSM is basically offerring the Town of Carrboro's wireless network. It appears that they have installed their own antennas to amplify the signal, but the network I connect to is TOCwireless.
Still... that doesn't serve the public... it serves as an additional perk for WSM's customers, which most definitely are *not* the citizens that supposedly *need* access to the Net. If anything, we should be asking why a private, for-profit business is being allowed to use a public network as a marketing tool. In addition, why aren't the other businesses in Carrboro being given access to the town's network? I still fail to see what this has to do with municiplaities offering free Net connectivity to its residents.

Have you looked across the street lately? Weaver Street Market's customers ARE the public.

Have you looked across the street lately? Weaver Street Market's customers ARE the public.
Wow. No offense, but that's pretty naive. The public, even in Carrboro, is made up of *much* more than people who can afford $2000 laptop computers and $4 organic free-trade lattes. Have *you* looked across the street lately? Maybe over to Cliff's Meat Market? How are those people being served by having wireless access on Weaver Street Market's property? The only immigrants I ever see at Weaver St. Market are washing dishes, not using the wireless connection. Or, how about "average" people such as myself who can't afford a laptop, can't afford a $4 latte, and certainly can't afford to dedicate daylight hours to surfing the Net outside? (I'm posting this while working, obviously) If the decision makers think that Weaver Street Market customers are representative of Carrboro, then I'm really just banging my head against a brick wall, here. But then again, maybe I'm being naive in thinking that Chapel Hill/Carrboro were any more open minded than anywhere else...

I think you are making a lot of assumptions, Frank. I don't buy $4 coffee drinks (at WSM or anywhere). I go there for affordable organic/bulk food, awesome community, and free wifi (in that order). I only have to pay for one of those things. I know it's not the entire economic or cultural spectrum of the town, but I see a VERY wide range of people there, from families with little kids to homeless folks looking for friends to laborers getting off work. I see a wider range of ages and races there than any single other locally-owned business.

Of course not everyone has a laptop. But for those without, the Carrboro Cybrary is just 50 feet away at the Century Center. Yet another public amenity serving the community.

Unless someone else has something to add to our conversation, I'm just going to accept that you and I disagree on this and move on.

Hey Frank -

municipal wifi is a reality already in philadelphia several west coast states, many others.

Oklahoma city is launching a 400 square mile wifi zone


are you by chance a Cutson supporter?

Frank, united we stand, divided we fall.

You see, this isn't about wires or fibre or wifi - this is about development a modern end-to-end technology ecosystem in which our community's economic, governmental and social future can thrive

The model I've proposed (as a private citizen, not speaking for the Tech Board here) incorporates private, commercial and public entities into the muni-network infrastructure. What's the role of the Town in this? To provide the initial organizing expertise, seedcorn and commitment of sustained funding that the muni-network non-profit needs to get started.

After that, the Town should pretty much get out of the way. The Town becomes the NPO's largest initial customer (yes customer, I haven't proposed making this free for all entities, just very low cost) and continues to play an oversight role on the NPO's board of directors.

What does this have to do with WSM?

Again, based on the mesh network topology I and others have suggested, a design used throughout the world, good neighbors like WSM, can contribute capacity. I could contribute capacity, you could, UNC could, etc. Many hands make light work - even in a strict technical sense.

So, why even have a non-profit?

Coordination, foodchain, out reach, commercial access and oversight.


These technologies, at least the wireless - cheapest to deploy, promising the quickest/broadest reach - can conflict with one another. For instance, T-Mobile at Caribou Coffee swamps the free Wifi channels for about a block around. Now, these frequencies are open and no one can control them (great!) but a little friendly technical coordination could sort out what channels we want to use for the community and which ones could be used for business.

We have organizations in Town that freely do computer training or refurbish existing equipment to be charitably redistributed. The muni-network NPO provides a natural gathering spot for these organizations to plug into and coordinate their efforts.

Some of the proposed architecture will require FCC licensing. The NPO can obtain these licenses for the public good but redeploy signal for both commercial and public purposes.


Again, it isn't about radio signals bouncing off buildings. If we do this right, we can integrate several community development activities into one framework.

Here's a quick sketch.

To use your example, we want to integrate those folk with the "$300 Wal-mart" computer to access broadband to continue their education (and let's say they can't trundle down to the Library because they only have 45 mins. a night between cleaning the dishes and putting the kids to bed). Initially, this person needs some training, who do they contact? If we're organized, the NPO can refer the person to someone else within the community that can train them (it's working like this elsewhere). The NPO, directly or through like-minded agencies, can also train the trainers, who in turn, train others ("loaves and fishes"). We already have a program at Hargraves that could be the nucleus of a broader effort. Eventually, we could develop a volunteer corp to staff a community-based call center to assist those citizens wishing to make the leap. The technology is there, we just need to coordinate.

Further, if we work it like other communities, we can have a technical jobs training effort that maintains, along with contracted entities, these services. This is experimental at this point, but the idea is rather than outsourcing basic technical support jobs you leverage the community investment in training your local workforce. Five years out we could have kids that were trained now as volunteers making a few bucks maintaining the community's communications infrastructure.

Out reach.

Frank, people have been critical along the lines of saying this is toy for rich folk or that there's no general demand by the under-served for this type of service. That's easy to say from a vantage point of having and knowing the Internet. I'm very optimistic but I'm not starry-eyed when I say that we haven't begun to see the social advantages of the Internet. I won't go into all the advantages of net access (that's been covered laboriously elsewhere), I hope you'll posit that point. We need a community-based effort to reach out and educate all our citizens, even those that appear to have no interest now, on those advantages (advantages easy for us Netizens to take for granted). Again, the NPO doesn't need to do all this outreach, it just provides an organization impetus for existing community efforts already well underway.

Commercial access.

A citizen-owned network can provide high quality service at an extremely competitive price point. New business opportunities will arise due to the ubiquitous nature of the muni-network and individuals that want to take advantage of these opportunities will have a low cost of entry. The local nature of the network leverages access to their local customer base. Revenues raised by providing competitive service in our community can underwrite maintenance and expansion of the network. Initially, the Town will be the largest customer for this service. The cost savings anticipated from increased operational efficiencies and improvements that ubiquitous broadband makes possible will positively offset the immediate costs of starting the NPO.

A NPO should be able to weather the Umstead Act type attacks the current monopolists like to employ to maintain their anti-competitive advantage.

This infrastructure will help distinguish Chapel Hill as a forward-looking municipality. The NPO can play a role in advertising Chapel Hill's competitive advantage over other communities. Recently, Google located a large R&D shop in a small community because it offered the quality of life its workers wanted and had an ubiquitous municipal broadband infrastructure that allowed them to innovatively meet their business needs. I wouldn't mind having Google or a UNC analogue creating 200 high paying jobs based right in our community.


There are several policy questions that will have to be answered while developing the NPO's charter. I believe that a NPO, operating at arms length from the government and acting as a common carrier, offers the most simplifying organizational structure for Chapel Hill.

OK. That's a schematic of what I and others have been discussing on OP and elsewhere. I expect there'll be refinements as we move forward.

One last point. We need to have a strong vision of where we want to be 5, 10, 20 years out but we shouldn't wait to have every detail nailed down before moving forward. Based strictly on the Town's own current communications requirements, we can begin to work on the foundation for this effort and realize true cost savings. Additionally, by moving forward now we can ensure that draconian legislation currently wending its way through the Federal labyrinth will not forestall future efforts.


I see Helena weighed in again, so let me add the Katrina story (again). WiMax is being used in the NOLA area to provide vital communications. WiMAX coupled with Wifi gave the best mix of distance and flexible service (more devices could join in) than anyother tech. Since disaster area phone, video, text, etc. can be created and pushed via IP, the strength of this approach is being proved out.

WillR -

If UNC joins the foodchain the Umstead act and state supporters of UNC would be a BIG HELP should AOL time warner and Bell south try to put the kabash on it...

From San Francisco:

"Marking a significant change from hotspots or hot zones, where WiFi access is available in proscribed areas, San Francisco's initiative seeks ubiquitous connectivity anywhere, anytime – an especially difficult challenge in a city renowned for its hilly topography. In addition to the seamless connectivity, the San Francisco WiFi initiative seeks to provide portable connectivity via handheld, PDA or cell phone, as well as mobile or nomadic connectivity – at an affordable cost for all residents, including low income San Franciscans.

Mayor Newsom called the City's WiFi initiative a model to the country, saying “As the United States lags behind other nations in equipping our citizens for the global economy, San Francisco understands that universal, affordable, wireless broadband access is essential to boost our economic, social and educational opportunities.” The Mayor also acknowledged the WiFi initiative as a step toward bridging the digital divide, saying “Providing universal, affordable, wireless broadband access is the just first phase of our new TechConnect strategy that will bring the promise of technology to low income and disadvantaged citizens....Following the model of “Project Connect,” TechConnect will connect all San Franciscans to the social, educational, informational and economic opportunities available online by creating public/private partnerships to provide technology equipment to those residents who can least afford it; by providing tools to help users make sense of the incredible array of information found on the internet; and by providing training support to teach residents how to use and maintain the equipment necessary to access the wealth of opportunity available online.”

I am all for WiFi capability in our communities. I do think candidates should offer a plan to finance it within current resources or just come out and say that they are willing to ask for a tax increase to finance it.

There are many good things that we should do as a community but we can't afford them all. So again, where does this fit into our priorities? If it is a #1, let's say that and be clear that it means taxes will go up to afford it.


Why do you and others keep insisting that this has to come out of the town budget? I'm not a candidate but I've offered several options and Will has shared his detailed plan to create a non-profit. The town can SPONSOR the program and lend technical expertise to getting it started without having to raise taxes or shift resources. San Francisco, like most other communities, is setting up a private/public partnership--similar to what we have with OWASA (which works on a cost of service basis).

Do you just want to hear this from a candidate instead of someone from an advisory board or is the message just not clear ?


I and others asked that the candidates who were advocates explain their position. WillR is the only one to offer ideas on how this could be done. I am not insisting that this has to come out of the town budget, but in the absence of comments to the contrary from the candidates supporting this, what is one suppose to think?

I'm just raising my virtual orange crossing flag!

Hey Fred,

I pay 50$ a month for road runner. How much do you think citizens would be willing to pay to free themselves from cable modem and DSL fees?

I'd be thrilled to give the town a few hundred a year for municipal wifi what about you?

Chapel Hill is small enough that wimax could easily work particularly with UNC which already has wifi on campus and internet access to all their satellite offices on Franklin street and MLK and their UNC healthcare offices throughout town.

How much would the businesses that currently are paying for wifi be willing to pay for municipal?

I guess when I see TimeWarner Verizon and others suing municipalities to stop them from offering wifi my assumption that they are doing it to harvest profits (not protect the consumer) is correct. While your assumption is that verizon and timewarner are suing cities to protect the consumer?



This would need a study and decide whether UNC could be brought onboard.



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