Find Wireless in Chapel Hill

This week I launched a new website called Chapel Hill Wireless. The sites first goal is to help people find public wireless hotspots. It uses a Google Map to plot markers where you can find wireless. I hacked together a bit of javascript using the Google Maps API to make it work. This site will cover the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, North Carolina.

I've included wireless provided by municipalities and businesses. As long as the wireless is available to everyone for free or a nominal fee - like a cup of coffee or a sandwich. (I didn't include the wireless on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill because its not open to the general public.)

If you've used one of the hotspots on the map WRITE A REVIEW. Here's how:
1) Register on the Chapel Hill Wireless website
2) Login
3) Write a review in a blog post
4) Send me an email. Tell me you've written a post.

Tell us where you like to hang out and use wireless. Is it comfortable? Are there enough electrical outlets? Are the people who work and hang out there friendly? At what time is the wireless available? Let us know if we should go there or not. Also if you've used a public wireless hotspot that isn't on the map email me and let me know.



For everyone's information, the Town of Chapel Hill will be sponsoring a Forum on Municipal Wireless Networks on May 18 from 7-9 pm at Town Hall. All are invited to attend. This forum is to provide information and education on muncipal wireless networks, generally. We will have time for some Q & A at the end of our forum. It will also be broadcast on our public access channel 18. Our speakers include Casey Lide of Baller Herbst in Washington DC who will give an overview of municipal networks and how other cities/towns have implemented these networks. He also will provide updates on legislation related to muncipal networks, and he will speak about network neutrality. Shannon Schelin, Ph.D. of the Institute of Government here in Chapel Hill will be our moderator and will also make a brief presentation. Other presenters include:
Lynda Goff, Executive Director of WinstonNet in Winston-Salem, NC
Ray Reitz, Chief Technology Officer of Chapel Hill Carrboro School System
Chad Johnston of The People's Channel

So come on out on Thursday, May 18 from 7-9 and get some interesting information on municipal wireless networks.

Great program Laurin!

Brian and I have discussed deploying a citizen network. One of the components would be a ruggedized Wifi MESH unit (maybe even solar powered).

Looks like the town could possibly get some free equipment from Proxim and save us a couple bucks ;-)

Invitation to US Communities – Wireless Equipment Grant Program

In addition to announcing its new outdoor mesh products, Proxim Wireless is also announcing a special “Equipment Grant Program” for selected municipalities. To qualify for consideration, municipalities must currently be in the planning stages of deploying a Community Access Network. Under the Program, Proxim plans to award to two cities, each of which meets certain qualifications, a quantity of its new outdoor mesh products without cost for use in Municipal Wi-Fi or Public Safety applications. More information can be obtained by visiting the Community Access Networks section of our website or by calling the company at 408-731-2700.

The equipment is MSRP at $1999 but I imagine will be competitively priced when rolled out.

Intel, Cisco and other equipment companies are already offering free or reduced cost equipment to get their foot in the door.

And with the new 802.11s open mesh standard looking good for near-term approval, whatever hardware that powers the initial infrastructure should interoperate with nextgen rollouts.

Without decent funding (e.g. if Brian, myself and others are funding this out-of-pocket), I'd probably go with a Champaign-Urbana CUwin-based system using off-the-shelf components, solar and battery power.

Folk have assembled CUWin outdoor units for roughly $200-300 a pop.

Finally, as far as cost, the Downtown Partnership is talking about buying $35-40,000 worth of new Christmas ornaments. Using the Proxim system, and even paying MSRP, we could rollout a MESH covering Downtown, Pine Knolls and Northside - anchored from Townhall - for the same $40K.

The Milwaukee Business Journal via MS-NBC

Citywide wireless Internet services are becoming almost as necessary as water and sewage service in communities across the United States.

Only a few months ago, wireless Internet was the new "must have" technology. But today, many communities throughout the Milwaukee area say it's a requirement in economic development. Companies and professionals, both young and old, are looking to relocate in areas that are on the cutting edge of technology.

In today's NYTimes are two articles on wirelessness. The first, "Switchboard in the Sky" begins:

CHESTERHILL, a tucked-away village in Ohio's Appalachian southeast, has been on technology's periphery for years. Its 312 residents have limited cellphone service and no broadband Internet service. The town's antiquated telephone lines struggle to handle minimal Internet speeds for those who do dial up.

But thanks to a rural technology grant from the American Distance Education Consortium and a network built by Ohio State University's Information Office, residents are set to go high speed wirelessly. With a satellite receiver mounted at their library, and a broadcast antenna on the village water tower, Chesterhill, where 20 percent of the residents live below the poverty line, now has a 1.5-megabit Internet pipeline in the air.

Local governments across the country are getting into the wireless Internet business. Communities left behind by the high-technology revolution of the last two decades view municipal networks as an affordable means of renewing their economic competitiveness and a way to bridge the digital divide between technology haves and have-nots.

Big cities and their suburbs see potential in municipal Wi-Fi, too. Systems are being developed in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago, while last week Suffolk County on Long Island announced it was planning a network that would reach 1.5 million people spread over more than 900 square miles.

The new programs have put local governments into the telecommunications arena, where they sometimes work with conventional service providers and sometimes compete with them.

[more including multimedia at this link]

The second is about wireless access in Yellowstone National Park and is more about cell, tv and other wireless services as well as WIFI.

Wireless Philly set to go

CNet reports that "the Philadelphia's citywide Wi-Fi project overcame its final hurdle Wednesday, as a city council committee approved measures to allow the contractor for the project, EarthLink, to hang equipment from city-owned utility poles."

The Wireless Philadelphia project is well described at the city's site and offers one model for a wireless town that can be pretty well understood by any reader but that can be a guide to readers with a policy and/or technical background.

While the Philly model might not be the right model for Chapel Hill, there is much there to draw on.

This just in: Winston-Salem to blanket the entire city, eventually all of Forsyth County, with WiFi.

More at Winston Net, including a 37-page detailed RFP:

I've read the Wireless Winston RFP from WinstonNet. It is a good document. I think it will be an excellent example of what Chapel Hill needs to work towards.

BTW... WinstonNet is a non-profit and will be managing the network in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. The group managing the wireless network in Philly is a non-profit too.

I think having a non-profit in Chapel Hill manage the construction and maintenance of a wireless network is the best model.

There is a very interesting and diverse group of partners working in Winston-Salem to bring about Wireless Winston. Universities, Businesses, community organizations, local government, community technology centers, etc. There goal seems to serve EVERYONE successfully.

I agree that WinstonNet is a great example. Bringing all the local partners together is what some of us have been advocating for, but there are two hurdles that need to be addressed upfront locally. One is how to cross the political boundaries between the towns and the county--it's been done to some extent with the transit authority, but a countywide wireless is a much larger scale collaboration. Second is UNC-CH's participation in light of the Umstead Act. WinstonNet has overcome both of those challenges, I feel sure we can too. Hopefully both issues will be raised as part of the May 18 forum.

I wonder if we need to encourage Orange County and Carrboro to hold similar public forums with the intent of educating the public on the issues?

I've come to believe that the long term solution for equal access to the Internet via WiFi is a modular one. By this I mean a piece by piece system were individual business owners, home owners, renters, churches, etc. share their network resources and participate in partnerships. People are already doing this when they share wifi in their buisness or home for free. But that is just the first step. With a little collaboration a network service layer could be put on top. Ex. local web servers, VOIP, location aware GPS applications, etc., etc.

This type of organic growth method is very robust. It could use mesh networks that can be added to easily. Thus growing the network in a unobtrusive way. Traditional networks are flat and don't scale well. Allowing a community WiFi networks to change gracefully in an open way can prevent all kinds of outages. Business related ones and technical ones.

I just wanted to point out that New Orleans's city-wide wifi, which I once (I think on another thread) bragged about, is no more. Earthlink is moving in, trying to achieve the same thing, and they don't want the city to compete. I've used such wifi connections, and I can tell you it's a pain in the rear -- they're not free, first of all. I'm sure you all have had similar experiences.

Also, New Orleans's system never really worked very well. This might be infrastructural problems caused by the hurricane -- either physical infrastructure or personnel -- but I suspect it's just hard get it right. I don't doubt a town can get it right, but I wonder if soon it won't be expected that businesses with appropriate seating will offer wifi. I know this doesn't solve the problem of home access, and therefore doesn't address socioeconomic disparities completely, but if your hotspots become ubiquitous the barriers for all wifi users will continue to come down.



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