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.



Breaking news! UNC CIO Dan Reed to assist Town of Chapel Hill in wireless planning.
The Town has the letter and the Tar Heel has the story.
UNC to aid stalled project Daily Tar Heel. February 15, 2006. Article by Alexa Dixon, Staff Writer.

In a recent letter to Mayor Kevin Foy, Chancellor James Moeser offered the aid of a University technology expert to the stalled Chapel Hill wireless initiative.

Dan Reed, vice chancellor for information technology, approached Moeser after reading about the town's interest in a wireless community in the newspaper.

Town officials began talking about providing free wireless Internet more than a year ago, when the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, then known as the Downtown Economic Development Corporation, reviewed the idea in November 2004.

Both the downtown partnership and the town's technology committee have been researching methods for implementation.

Moeser stated in his letter that Reed's help might be a fruitful way for the University to provide important assistance to the town in moving forward on the project.

Reed said the plan is to arrange a meeting with the town and the technology board at UNC.

"Basically we are setting up some meetings, and from there an action plan will emerge," he said.

"(Our participation) will be driven by what the community wants to do; we are here to serve them."

Gregg Gerdau, chairman of the technology committee, said he has yet to meet with the technology board at UNC but hopes the town will be closer to realizing its initiative afterward.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Laurin Easthom said she was thrilled by the letter. She sought a response to the letter at Monday's council meeting.

"I am extremely excited about the prospect of the University to be a partner in the initiative of giving wireless Internet to Chapel Hill," Easthom said in a phone interview before the meeting.

Wow! This is great news! I hope Carrboro doesn't let this opportunity pass them by. Right now it looks like it's UNC and Chapel Hill. Where does Carrboro fit in?

I was over on main campus today and saw a notice for "technology without borders." Does anyone know what that is?

From Information Week

"The Internet is essentially a next-generation public utility, and like any utility, access to that service should be equally available to anyone who can afford to purchase it. And that purchase price should neither be prohibitive nor create favored classes.

"Think about it. More and more of our lives are being conducted online, and I mean solely online. And you have no choice about it. Kids without computers and Internet access will be at an ever worsening disadvantage. But adults will too. The spill over effect is substantial. Travel tickets, job applications, health records, banking, bill paying, purchasing, support for various products and services — what isn't already solely online is going there, soon.

"In the same way that most of us can afford to flip a switch to get the same access to the same dose of electricity, we have to make sure that the same holds true for the Internet. You can tell us what you think by leaving a response to this blog entry."


You are absolutely right. With one-sixth of the world's population (and 68% of the US's) now using the internet and this expected to grow to one-third in the next 5-10 years it will be imperative that everyone have equal, inexpensive access to this tool. I hope that all levels of government quickly adopt plans to do so before some of our citizens get too far behind in acquiring the necessary skills to manage this wonderful utility.

The CH Technology Committee will be presenting a plan to Council on how to move forward with a municipal network on February 27. I don't know what the plan is or whether I'll support their approach, but it would be an excellent opportunity for those of us who support the creation of a municipal network to show up and indicate our support to the Town Council. They need a little motivational push, IMHO.


Although there are benefits to establishing free Internet access, I'd like to emphasize a problem with the argument that free Internet access benefits everyone. As some have pointed out it can assist other public services (police, fire dept, etc.) so in that respect it can benefit everyone. However, interms of personal use… If an individual does not have the money and knowledge to support a computer, free access means nothing.
How many people/families don't have a computer at home and/or the ability to maintain it? Free wireless access will not necessarily make a significant difference to those who don't have a personal computer.
I'd like to request those advocating for free Internet access for “all”, please stop advertising how free Internet access, by itself, will benefit personal use for everyone (this is not directed at George C or Terri Buckner). Without an organized effort to address the digital divide, free Internet access will not improve personal Internet use for ALL residents in Chapel Hill.

Marc, If you look back through this thread you will see that several of us include access to computers as well as training in our requirements for a strategic plan. The model I like comes from the People's Emergency Center in Philadelphia:

Also, not all of us are advocating for 'free' wireless. My interest is in a municipal service that has multiple security levels so that emergency services and homeusers can utilize the same network. How we pay for that should be part of the strategic plan.

closing the link. oops!

What does Google receive - from a business standpoint – by providing wi-fi to a town? If they don't charge the end users (people with laptops using the wifi) then how do they profit from it?

I suspect one type of financial gain comes from data mining. By analyzing data traffic reports they can learn a lot. From this information they can create metadata which can be used to make lots of valuable business decisions. This business model is the core of Google's 50 billion dollar company.

This morning I found a great report that was recently published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance called "Localizing the Internet: Five Ways Public Ownership Solves the U.S. Broadband Problem." [Via /.] The summary is below, or check out the pdf.

1. High-speed information networks are essential public infrastructure.

Just as high quality road systems are needed to transport people and goods, high quality wired and wireless networks are needed to transport information. Public ownership of the physical network does not necessarily mean the city either manages the network or provides services. Cities own roads, but they do not operate freight companies or deliver pizzas.

Information networks are technologically sophisticated and the technologies involved are rapidly evolving. However, fiber optic cables are to this century what copper wires were to the last, and their capacity is essentially unlimited. While wireless networks are experiencing rapid advances, the initial investment is so low and the payback period so short that rapid upgrades are part of both private and public business plans.

2. Public ownership ensures competition.

A publicly owned, open access network can be open to all service providers on the same terms, thereby encouraging the entry of new service providers. Customers can choose broadband service providers according to the combination of price, speed and service that fits their needs. This is particularly important given that consolidation in the telecommunications industry and a hands-off policy by the federal government have combined to lessen competition among private suppliers.

Cities establishing new, privately owned citywide networks can require the owner to allow fair access. But it is unclear whether these contractual obligations will be enforceable in the future.

3. Publicly owned networks can generate significant revenue.

Telecommunications networks are different from traditional public works like roads because they can be self-financing both in terms of initial construction costs and ongoing upgrades. They can also generate revenue for local government, reduce the cost of government services, or keep more money in residents' pockets with lower prices.

4. Public ownership can ensure universal access.

Publicly owned road, water and sewer, and sidewalk networks connect all households without discrimination. All have access to the same services, though they may purchase different amounts. Private companies, on the other hand, have incentives to upgrade their networks only where it will be the most profitable.

5. Public ownership can ensure non-discriminatory networks.

With publicly owned networks, customers can be sure that any traffic management mechanisms are necessary and not simply to improve profitability. Communities can insist on neutrality from any service provider that uses the network. Or, if the market is large enough to support multiple service providers, a publicly owned network can leave neutrality to the market, knowing that unhappy customers can easily change service providers.



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