Town Forum on Municipal Networking

On Thursday May 18 the Chapel Hill Town Council will host a public forum on Municipal Wireless Networking. The event will be from 7 to 9PM and be held at Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. All are invited to attend.

The event will be moderated by Shannon Schelin, Ph.D. of the Institute of Government at UNC. She will also make a presentation. Other speakers include Casey Lide of Baller Herbst in Washington, DC; Lynda Goff, Executive Director of WinstonNet in Winston-Salem, NC; Ray Reitz, Chief Technology Officer of Chapel Hill Carrboro School System; and Chad Johnston, Executive Director of The People's Channel. For more information about the speakers please see the Town event webpage. There will be time at the end of the event for questions and answers. If you can't make it in person you can watch the event on Public Access channel 18.



Today's NSA nonsense makes a good case, I believe, for community-owned communications infrastructure.

Between the governments inability to investigate the illegal "reaping" (it's more data mining than wiretapping) of communications and the revelation the local Bellsouth ilicitly turned over our last five years of call records, the need for a community to have control over the policies protecting their freedom of speech on the new Town commons is more important than ever.

You are obviously more well-versed in this than I am, but I find it hard to believe that a local network will be any safer than any other kind of network from the NSA. Now, if they come a' asking, we can say NO, but if they don't come asking? Maybe I've been watching too many 24-style shows.

Robert, there's a number of technical solutions that would slow or stop encroachments even by well-equiped agencies like the NSA.

But, as you allude to, it starts with saying NO!

We cannot trust our freedom of speech on the new Town commons to companies that have no allegiance to our founding principles, to the rule of law, to our Constitutional protections.

A community-owned network will offer a credible alternative to their corrupted networks.

Local folk will set the usage policies in accordance with both Constitutional principles and human decency (like demonstrating the good manners of not eavesdropping or peeping in windows).

And if you're comfortable with these profiteers prying into your communications, mapping out your social networks, selling you out to government and probably just about anyone else, hey, you can still use them... I'd just like our community to have an alternative.

BTW, Bellsouth is looking at billions in losses due to Federal fines and consumer lawsuits.

If you're a customer of Bellsouth, you might consider calling 404-249-2000, Bellsouth's CEO Duane Ackerman's office.

I called today to report Bellsouth's violations of both their own corporate integrity, privacy and ethics policies AND their FCC regulatory and legal requirement to safeguard customer records.

Seems like they're getting quite a few calls like mine today.

Chapel Hill could go wireless

Fabulous optimism.

Thanks Rob!

Bellsouth denies USA Today's claims

BellSouth said in a statement that it doesn't contract with the National Security Agency to supply customer calling information.

"As a result of media reports that BellSouth provided massive amounts of customer calling information under a contract with the NSA," it said Monday, "the company conducted an internal review to determine the facts. Based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA."

though USA Today continues

USA TODAY first contacted BellSouth five weeks ago in reporting the story on the NSA's program. The night before the story was published, USA TODAY described the story in detail to BellSouth, and the company did not challenge the newspaper's account. The company did issue a statement, saying: "BellSouth does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any governmental agency without proper legal authority."

In an interview Monday, BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher said the company was not asking for a correction from USA TODAY.

So, no retraction requested even though there's supposedly no NSA dealings. Bellsouth didn't clarify their involvment in general, responding:

Asked to define "bulk customer calling records," Battcher said: "We are not providing any information to the NSA, period." He said he did not know whether BellSouth had a contract with the Department of Defense, which oversees the NSA.

Wish they were as unambiguous as QWest.

Can someone please explain why the Chapel Hill News keeps repeating this exaggerated, inaccurate (WRONG) cost figure?
"Con: Internet access abounds on campus, at the public library, at downtown businesses that already offer wireless services and in homes. In short, it's not worth the $150,000 per square mile it might cost to provide Internet access, $3 million if the whole town was connected. (It cost Carrboro about $60,000 to provide wireless access in its smaller downtown because of a relatively inexpensive antennae system.)"

If anyone from the CH News is reading this, please pay attention: there are too many options for how service can be configured to make any reasonable estimate of cost.

Here are the questions Civitium (contractor for San Francisco) says we would need to answer before we would have any idea of cost:
What outcome we are looking for? (rough vision/goals, any fixed or variable factors that need to be considered.
topology and surface area for targeted areas along with a rough description of the morphology (man made structures)
population of targeted area (# of households, # of small businesses time frame we want included (startup or Year 0 and maintenance Year 1 beyond)
type of service (see below)
assumptions about the technology (see below)
regulatory environment (constraints on type of business model including upfront funding)
Type of Service OPTIONS:
Fixed: primary location only, similar to T1/DSL/cable. This would be appropriate for Wimax deployment and would support parking/utility meters.
Nomadic: primary location with ability to move the computing device); Star Bucks approach. Wifi deployment.
Portable: computing device used in variety of locations (slow motion movement such as parking enforcement, police cruiser, buses) (wifi deployment)
Mobile: cellular or speed mobility (this technology is not yet ready for prime time)
In other words, we have to decide if we want a bicycle, a Hugo, a Prius, or a semi-tractor. Only then will any kind of cost estimate be meaningful. Repeating a bad number--a number the majority of members from the Tech committee disagreed with--is not helpful to anyone.

The article was written by Matt Dees.

It's strange he stuck to the $150K figure considering he's been present at Council meetings where I contested the figure.

Since he reads OP, he must be aware of Teri, Brian,myself and others pointing out, numerous times, that the cost is a factor of business model and technology. Some communities are making money on the network, some are revenue neutral and some are payng out (the extreme case being Taipei @ $1.6M/sq mile to cover 10s to 100s of thousands concurrent connections in an urban environment).

Heck, maybe Matt even heard me on the recent WCHL Downtown forum where I called Cal out on the $150k/sq. , yet again.

I'm not the only citizen in town interested in a municipal networking (many much more eloquent than I), but since I was quoted (off of OP), it would've been nice if he'd tried to touch base with me.

Matt, you have had my personal phone number and "private" email address for years. While it's nice you picked up on one of the many policy concerns that I think should be driving the discussion, still, it would've been nice if you'd dropped me a line or gave me a call to follow up on the municipal network issue.

So, Matt, consider this an invitation in perpetuity to call and discuss the drive for citizen-owned communications infrastructure. Maybe not quite as easy as a quick copy-n-paste, but, hopefully, worth the time of getting more of the story.

Hey, and so not to give the CHN too much off a lead, I'll be happy to discuss with any of the local media the many positive and potentially negative aspects of this Chapel Hill high tech upgrade.

Chapel Hill residents should also understand that the town pays at minimum, a little over $8,300 PER MONTH to Time Warner and BellSouth for connectivity only. That figure does not include the cost of any fiber, equipment, or personnel. If anyone wants to discuss costs, then cost offsets must also be considered. Right now the Town is simply paying out money rather than investing in the future.

In about 1997, after we had concluded the town refranchising
agreement over cable TV, one of the Time-Warner reps
took me to lunch to make a proposal that went something
like this: Do you think that people in CH would be willing
to pay $55 per month (remember this was ten years ago
and the internet was not at its current state) for local
phone service, internet access, and cable TV thru the
level of CNN and ESPN, all delivered on one wire into each
home? My answer was yes, absolutely. What happened
with that was that Time-Warner assigned CH as a
second-priority city for this service, since our population
density and their potential profit were not as great as
the largest NC cities, even with our relatively high
wealth and wired mentality. Moreover, due to
legal and regulation issues, I don't think they ever offered
the service anywhere.

But what has run around in the back of my head since
that time was that the consolidation of electronic
services may well be where the big savings lie. Just like
the computer graphics industry formed from a merger of
television, oscilloscopes and computers, the household
communications-entertainment industry may result
from a merger of cable TV, internet and phone.
We will still need some competition to hold
the prices at reasonable levels, of course.

How can this be applied to town-wide internet access?
Or will we have one more contractor concentrating
only on his service?

Yes Joe--we can have any combination of digital services as part of the town network for both domestic and town operations utilization. We can also offer choices. Of course those options would depend on which business model is chosen, but unfortunately, despite lots of efforts, we have not been able to move the conversation about wireless into the realm of what COULD be and past the idea of simply replicating the current coffee shop model.

That's why some of us were so opposed to the survey done in downtown--it didn't ask anything about how businesses are currently using digital services for credit card verification, ordering, etc. The entire public discussion has assumed all anyone wants to do is either use their laptop of email/websurfing or to provide that access to customers. Hopefully, tomorrow night will change that conversation.

Hey, I just want to bump this up to remind everyone this forum is TONIGHT!

I hope folks will come out and show how much interest there is for wifi in Chapel Hill.

I'm doubtful that I'm going to be able to attend, as I'm in the process of moving, selling a good number of my possessions, trying to get myself a decent summer job, and all before I leave for Knoxville to work tomorrow night. Would anyone be kind enough to record (audio) or tape (Channel 18) it for me? I don't have a cable TV.

The forum is starting. There's about 40 folk gathered, so far, as Laurin Easthom introduces the panel.

Council members Strom, Greene, Easthom and Harrison are attending "in the flesh".

Former Technology Board members Steve, Brian, Terri, Bob and I are here to see what bits of our groups discussions come up.

Emily, Matt are here from the local MSM. Cal just showed up. And, of course, Ruby is here.

If I get a chance, I'll be asking about the NextBus project - I wonder if the panelists will weigh in?

The first presentation (Casey Lide) just ended. It was packed with useful information, but I hope they aren't all that long!

I'm trying to live 'blog this here.

Wow! Brian Russell just announced the formation of a new NPO to bring wireless to the community!

I am really surprised and pleased that the average age of the 50 or so people here is probably at least 55. This is not the usual suspects supporting wifi.

I agree. Also some good questions - I like the one on remote medical monitoring - an incredible opportunity in our community.

Hey, what's Brian's new NPO link?

My FULL query was:

The Town Council recently dissolved the Technology Advisory Board which was composed of community citizens. With that in mind, what assurances do the taxpayers of the town have that our opinions will be given the same or greater weight than the corporate entities who might be asked to build and manage a town wireless network?

Will the Town follow it's usual course of hiring pricey consultants at taxpayer expense to help in the decision-making? Or will the Council instead seek the competent and excellent advice of community members -- particularly technically savvy individuals who work for the University?

Thank you.


Easthom's answer was basically that the Council will create a new Advisory Board in the Fall. Oh, gee that's comforting. I can't think of another instance when the Council dissolved a board only to recreate it later the same year. As a citizen and, of course, taxpayer it sounds like incompetence to me. If the existing Board did not operate appropriately, then it's direction or membership should have been changed -- that's the Council's business and duty.

The second question was not presented because Easthom's reply "supposedly" already answered it. Come on people, we know that if the Town really pursues a wireless project, we are going to spend tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and lawyers. This will happen even though some of the best experts in the nation work in this city at UNC. Jim Gogan and Paul Jones are just two of the INTERNATIONALLY recognized experts we could ask to help.

Brian, I was too hungry after the forum to wait to talk to you but also am wanting to know about the non-profit you proffered. It could certainly help jump-start things.

Hamilton, thank you for your questions! I was very pleased to hear them mentioned. It's clear there's a lack of vision on the Council when it comes to technology, but I think that's just a symptom of a larger problem they have with not dealing with their challenges in an open and strategic way.

And another question. I have no doubt that their are people (especially economically disadvantaged K-12 students) in the area who are underserved and have need for Internet access. But, where were they in the meeting last night?

Where were the parents of disadvantaged kids? Where were the bus riders who want to know exactly where the buses are? Where were the business owners who would like to have access for their clients?

As far as I could tell from the TV broadcast, everyone in the room appeared to be Internet-savvy and likely already had broadband access through work or home or both.

I think UNC was probably pretty well represented by John Streck who is the head of campus networking (and in that capacity he is Jim Gogan's boss).

I couldn't be there as Sally Greene and I can only rarely be at the same Town meetings. No we are not the same person, but we share the same child.

I am interested in getting the Town to become wireless in a way that assists the citizens, the businesses and the Town itself to function well.

Shannon Schelin, if I read Willr's blog correctly, has it right: If you're a government “wireless connectivity is essential” I'd add that open standards and interoperability are essential to the project not only to encourage competativeness in technology, but also for sustainability and future development.

I second Ruby. Thanks Hamilton.

There were 6 former and 1 soon-to-be members of the Tech Board there...

I agree with Ruby that the problem is broader than our Council's over-use of consultants or hesitancy to implement common technological solutions to improve our town's operations. The Mayor recently said that hiring a technology saavy manager wasn't that important!

One recent example where strategic thinking could increase the return on monies spent is the NextBus contract. We're missing a $1 million opportunity to provide both transit improvements and broad Wifi corridors along our bus routes.

Good question on where the other stakeholders, like students young and old, were... There were a few young folk sitting behind me and a mix of other interested parties (including two networking vendors).

You are so right Hamilton. Many members of the Chapel Hill comunity were not represented tonight.

We need to get more people involved. I hope to speak with a diverse group of people and encourage them to be involved. The last thing we should do is force anything upon people.

I want to see excitement and interest from EVERYONE. This is about the creation of a community resouce afterall.

In case you missed it, Easthom, Greene, Harrison, Strom and Foy all made the meeting (though Strom and Foy were there at different times - I assume to avoid a quorum?).

Harrison took a ton of notes. Sally was quite attentive.

The Council definitely got a great, condensed, version of the info I and others have presented over the last couple years. I know I learned a few things...

Linda Goff from WinstonNet really brought all the issues from the other presenters together into a vision for how the town can proceed. I liked that she kept pointing out the regional opportunities and the re-emphasis on how important fiber is to the eventual deployment of a network. As an aside, Laurin Easthom petitioned Council last June--before she was elected--to lay conduit for fiber whenever possible. That petition has never been responded to as far as I recall.

The last question of the night, from Walker Rutherford, was what are the next steps. Anyone care to share their thoughts on that question?

From today's Daily Wireless

"We are a massive technology user," White said of Houston, Texas, "but a lot of people don't think of us that way." With a wireless network in place, Houston would take in big step in enhancing its image as a tech-savvy town...

It goes on to point out that

the objectives of this initiative include:

* Reducing the City government cost for mobile computing, i.e. parking meters, traffic signals, maintenance crews, field inspections, video and photography in police cars, maps and building plans in fire and EMS vehicles;
* Reducing the monthly cost of broadband for residential and small business users from $30-$50 to $10-$20; and
* Bridging the digital divide for disadvantaged communities/ individuals and promoting economic development and conventions/tourism.

Houston's network would have three tiers of service:

* Public service includes parking meters, traffic signals, maintenance crews, field inspectors, etc.;
* Public Access for households, small businesses, tourisms, and conventioneers at affordable rates available across the city/region; and
* Public Safety, i.e., police, fire, emergency medical services as the technologies improve and security concerns are addressed.

Sound familiar?

The network is projected to cost $30-50M for 600 sq/miles or, roughly $50 to $80K per sq/mi. Significantly cheaper than the $150K that we keep seeing blathered about...

Here's Jennifer Ferris' HeraldSun story on the forum.

How about an unbiased cost/benefit analysis? Has that been done? If so, I cannot find one. Seems to me that it should be necessary before spending taxpayer money.

The community needs to make a lot of decisions BEFORE we do an overall cost/benefit analysis, johnk.

Such as who will be served by a muni network? Where will it cover? Who wants to use it? Why do they want to use it? Does it reach public areas like parks only, peoples homes and businesses, or both? What business model do we want to use or maybe more than one? Technically we need to decide what kind of network radio hardware we want to use and what kind of wireless network type? On and On.

A good way to make this less complicated is to do pilot projects on a small scale. This will gather lots of ESSENTIAL data and make informed choices. It'll also help the Town be cost effective.

The Town is running a pilot project in the Craig Gomains public housing units, in conjunction with CHCCS's ConnectToSchool program. I was surprised that Dr. Reitz didn't mention it in his presentation.

Presentations from the Wireless Community Forum have been published to the Town's website.

While I applaud the pilot project that Bill mentions above... from my knowledge it doesn't provide full access to the Internet. Filtered access isn't going to help students older siblings or parents apply for a job online. [I mention this not to dis this project but to make it clear to the public.]

So I'm not sure how valuable it would be as a pilot program. If Town Tech folks could elaborate on what they expect as far as knowledge learned from this pilot, I'm all ears. :)

The North Carolina Revenue Law Committee is putting forward HB 2047 in the very near future that will significantly change the options available to local communities for any kind of video programming distribution. On first reading, it seems like video streamed programming will be limited under this legislation if it is passed. The proposed bill can be found at:

One more lose of local control and a backdoor means of restricting competition as digital services change the face of telecommunications.

For those of you interested in wireless, Dan Reed, the guy who has offered to help with the Municipal Wireless effort and a well-known computing expert, will be giving a talk about the future of computing and technology on Tuesday, May 30, 1:30 pm , 104 Peabody Hall on the UNC campus. The talk promises to raise some interesting issues. For more, see

From today's NYTimes Editorial Page:

No fewer than 300 cities and towns around the nation have taken wireless Internet access, or Wi-Fi, to the people. San Francisco's aim is to make the entire city a hot spot, Chicago plans to blanket the city with access, and large parts of Philadelphia are to go wireless soon. But New York, which should be leading the way, is dragging. A plan to offer free Wi-Fi access in city parks has been moving slowly, and a larger vision has yet to take shape.

Wide dissemination of Wi-Fi is not the future. It is now, needed by businesses, educators and especially the underserved populations on the wrong side of the digital divide. Rural communities have known for a while that going wireless is cheaper, more reliable and allows even the most remote areas to log in. It spares the expense of laying down extensive networks of cables, not to mention the work and time involved.


Read more by clicking on the text above.

Tentatively on our agenda for June 12, the council will discuss the next step(s) in considering a municipal wireless network. Stay tuned.

Laurin, have you heard back from staff on the soon-to-be-squandered $1M opportunity to extensively deploy Wifi along our bus routes (aka NextBus fiasco)?

Here is a link to the resolution for a COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER DEVELOPMENT OF A WIRELESS COMMUNICATION NETWORK (2006-06-12/R-15). This is item #18 on the council's adgenda for this Monday.

Thanks for the link Brian. I'm glad to see the Council is now headed in the same direction proposed by the IT Advisory subcommittee on wireless back in August 2006. It may have taken a while to get everyone to this point, but I believe it is the right and smart place to be.

The People's Channel and Orange County Public Schools need to be added to the list.


I'm glad to see that Council is following up on folks call for a task force with a focused charter instead of farming this out to an existing advisory board or some other external group (like the DPC).

There's a less than satisfactory response to Laurin's NextBus query on the agenda. It includes some real zingers like:

Using the Automatic Vehicle Location and Passenger Information System funding as a way to further wireless capabilities in the Town was considered during the development of the Request for Proposals but was not included, because of the absence of a proven and cost effective wireless technology that could be readily acquired and used for this purpose.

Cut-n-pasting WiMAX into the TTA templated RFP is not the same as a real consideration of using this project to advance wireless in Town. Absence of a proven system? I've bored OP'rs (and folks visiting my site) with lists of successful alternatives to NextBus.

Not quite buses but...

WiMAX Telecom Group, a multinational operator of WiMax services in Europe, set a new record transmitting live video at ranges of up to 40 kilometres ( 24.8 miles) of the World Sailing Championships in Austria -- and from from moving vessels.

Last night I watched the re-run of Monday night's presentation to the TOC by the technology working group. In one way what I heard was incredibly gratifying--the proposals are the same as those made by the TechComm (TC) 2 years ago. 1) invest in fiber (coordinated with the traffic signal project); 2) identify some hot spot applications (the TC suggested downtown/Northside); and 3) hire a consultant to develop a strategic plan. The council's discussion focused on other aspects (also all recommended by some of us on the TC): 1) pursuing a non-profit ownership model; 2) not waiting for legislation that might interfere with plans to move forward; and 3) including citizens in defining the scope of the project.

There were two aspects put forward by some of us (not all) on the TC that were not addressed on Monday that I still believe to be valuable: 1) start the project by improving access for town operations such as inspections, EMS, etc. and 2) partner with other interested local organizations such as the public school system, the Chamber of Commerce, EmPOWERment, etc.


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