Where is the WiFi?

At a recent council meeting the Chapel Hill IT Director presented information about a WiFi pilot project. One council member asked How will citizens know where it is? How will we know when its up? The Mayor asked the IT Director to work with the Town Information Officer. A good first step. I subscribe to the Chapel Hill eNews. (A email list.) I wonder what percentage of Chapel Hillians do?

For this pilot project to work not only do the WiFi hot spots need to be where people will be but the Town needs to tell people where they are. A press release will help but it won't be enough to encourage full participation.

Here are a few ideas for getting the word out. I hope that if the Town is really interested in the success of this pilot that they'll consider these options. What ideas do you have? Please leave them in the comments.

First, mark the locations clearly where open public WiFi is present. The Town of Carrboro uses a internationally known symbol for an open wifi node.
There is a symbol like this on the door of the Century Center as you head towards the Cybrary. Still this bit of iconography is a bit geeky so some may be confused by it. I think english AND spanish signs that say; Public Wireless Internet Access Available Here, would be good.

Second, plot the WiFi hot spots on a map. Google maps are incredibly powerful tools that are free to use. Last year I created a map for local WiFi called Chapel Hill Wireless. It has pins on a map that you can click on and learn more about the spot. I've included WiFi from both Towns and from local businesses. (Sadly UNC's wifi is NOT on this map. That network is closed to most citizens.) Since this map's creation we've also gotten maps for other towns such as Durham Wireless and Asheville Wireless.

Third, hold events at the WiFi locations. Work with local tech groups like BlogTogether and University user groups to have lawn chair parties within range of the WiFi. I suggest people need to bring their own chairs because it looks like the majority of the pilot project will be conducted in parking lots. Sorta hard to sip coffee and talk to friends and family on asphalt. But I plan on doing just that.

I am sure there are even more creative ways to let people know about these new public resources. As I said in my comments before the council success of public WiFi relies on two way communication with people more than technology. WiFi for people before parking meters!



I agree with Brian that comminication of wifi hot spots is key to success of a wifi initiative.

I would like to see the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, the Chamber of Commerce and UNC partner to agree on a single logo that could be used throughout the area.

This would provide citizens with a mechanism to easily identify wifi areas. Businesses could use the logo in advertising, post in in their windows etc.

I think having multiple different logos and symbols designating wifi areas will hinder its use rather than promote it.

Andrea, do you know if the DPC is working on the retail map idea for Downtown? When I ran in 2005, I suggested that we put something up like the mall's directory (yeah, I can hear some folks gakking).

Someone told me then that, due mainly to the retail churn, it would be too expensive. I was thinking about it recently after RobertP invited a bazillion Dems to Sicko. Turns out most folks didn't know where any of the suggested eateries were, and except for folks like myself who lent a hand guiding the crew, would've been otherwise hopelessly lost.

If something like that is in the works, maybe we can add the Wifi hotspots, the existing Wallace Deck cr@@holes, the new public bathrooms and drinking fountains I'm going to strongly encourage the Town to negotiate for Lot #5, parking zones, etc.

I'd be happy to lend a hand (starting with the 5 most common questions I get from visitors Downtown).

It is amazing to me that there is no discussion of cost/benefit analysis regarding this topic. Aren't the taxpayers at least due this bit of respect?? Or maybe the numbers just don't work??

There has been a lot of discussion about the cost and benefit of WiFi in Chapel Hill. My first post about Wireless in CH on OP was on November 11, 2004. You can also read posts and comments about WiFi here, here, here, here, here, and here on OP. (Those are just my posts. Not including all of WillR's posts.)

Plus we had a public forum at Town Hall on May 18, 2006. Before that the, now defunct, Town Technology Board discussed and presented data on several cost/benefit scenarios. In addition many citizens have shared examples of how other Cities and Towns in the US deployed WiFi. I think we have had a good discussion on this. We can have more.

On top of this I have suggested to the Town Council (in person at a public council meeting) that we conduct a local conference on WiFi. That way we can have EVEN MORE community input and participation.

Yes, Brian, but you can discuss, meet and conference all you want and still not answer my question.

Which I will restate: What is the actual calculated financial benefit to the taxpayers who will ultimately support this system, and what is its cost? I know that cost benefit analysis appears to be greek to many who read this blog, but it is an established method for determining whether a government should fund any particular project.

If this urgent need for municipal wifi is some sort of "to the public's benefit" thing, then the first tower needs to go on Rogers Road, where the most needy will benefit.

Anything else is just providing free wifi to laptop carrying folks downtown.

I actually think jmk has a point about cost-benefit analysis and it ties in with something Brian or Will said a long time ago about incorporating existing business networks into one large net. There is a benefit to having people come to your establishment or within hailing distance of your establishment to use wireless. Right now, I am thinking about where to pick up and go get a cup of coffee. Wireless is a top priority.

I think the sticking point in cost-benefit analysis would be determining what a "benefit" is, and I have a feeling that jmk and I would disagree with this because his tone would lead me to believe that for him it would be purely $$$ and ยข

Okay, I don't know if the cent symbol worked since the preview function, which I loved, is still AWOL.

You have to remember that the benefit goes beyond short-term, concrete financial gain. Having free and open wifi promotes a free and open society which encourages democracy, arts, education, and more. Which is not to say that there are no monetary benefits, but that all of the benefits cannot be measured that way.

JMK, Wifi is part of a larger strategy to wire our town up with citizen owned infrastructure.

The telcos and cablecos have been terrible in providing cost effective and widely available service. If we'd left construction of our roads to these guys we'd all be using muddy paths through overgrown forests.

These same telcos and cablecos will benefit from neutral ownership of the infrastructure - just as the multitude of transport companies do today with our Interstate system - but they don't want to give up their monopolistic hold.

As Ruby said, the bits flowing across the 'net are more than business. The 'net is developing into the new Town Commons. It's where some of the most active small-d democracy is occurring - so there's value in that.

On RobertP's point, though, a quick bit of anecdotal evidence. I work very close to Breadmans and USED to bop in there for a quick breakfast before work. For variety (and a better spread), I also ducked into Carrboro's Elmos. I'd say it was a %70/%30 split. After the TOC Wireless went in, the split went %5/%95.

I frequent many of the eateries on Franklin St. (no surprise to the OP'rs who have seen me - I like a good meal). As WIFI has spread along West End (the Med Deli, for instance), I've tended to move West.

One last personal data point. UNC Hospitals are well-served by public - not campus but public Wifi access. When I notice folks working remotely - say as they're waiting for their appointments - I walk up and ask them what they think of the service. Based on tens of conversations - it's a big win. As one guy pointed out, the irritation he used to feel when his appointment was 1/2 hour late had disappeared because he could continue his workday conveniently.

Yes, not everyone can or wants to take advantage of connectivity but we believe it's required public infrastructure for this century. We know that the telcos/cablecos have been terrible stewards of this resource. And we strongly suspect that without publicly sponsorship our community will follow the current US trajectory and fall from 29th to even lower place in the new economy.

All of this talk is fine, but to me there needs to at least be an attempt at a cost analysis. Chapel Hill (nor any government) should not be in the internet service provider business in my opinion. You may not like the TWCs of the world, but has anyone proven Chapel Hill can do it cheaper and better?

Thus far, all I have heard is how great it would be to have wifi downtown, how the world will be a better place etc. This will of course benefit businesses to the extent that it will draw more folks there. Methinks the greatest benefit will be to students who may hang out there, they can check their email without buying a cup of coffee.

Keep in mind that the folks who live in the Rogers Road neighborhood (at least those on the Chapel Hill side) are paying hard earned tax money for this downtown wifi. What is in it for them??? If this is about getting one over on the Uber-telco's because they do not provide cost effective service, what better place to start free service than in the lowest income areas of the town??? Well?? I know that won't get most folks who read this blog free wifi, but if your ideals about spreading the net to everyone are honest, then......

Again, this is all about relatively well off folks wanting to take their laptops downtown, sorry folks but painting it otherwise does not change the shape. I personally think a cost benefit analysis has not been done because it would shed light on the true nature of this idea.

Sounds like more "me me me" to me.

The benefits and the costs of a wireless network will depend upon the design. One subgroup of the TechComm wanted to see the town start with a wireless municipal network for police, fire, inspections, etc. and then branch off of that network for the public. While I don't know the exact payback period, town staff from Vermont, Kentucky, and a couple of other places both said the network was significantly cheaper and more reliable than one purchased from a commercial organization. If you want to search, back in 2005 I posted the town's annual budget for Time Warner.

Benefits of a municipal services include:
--reduced time for processing inspections and permits
--improved response time for safety operations
--improved community relations
--consolidation to one network reduced overall expenditures as well (right now several Chapel Hill departments pay additional fees on top of what the town pays for their primary network).

Once the municipal services network was up and running these other communities split the network and made a portion of it available to the community. Benefits of community access include:Improving access for low-income residents, especially students: Philadelphia is a model for this.
Small businesses able to lower monthly operating costs by reducing 1-2 telephone lines
Tourists and other visitors have access to network services, maps, etc. In Athens, UGA students created a walking tour of downtown that can be downloaded for free.

One more thing. I had hoped that if the town followed this strategy that the public access portion of the network would be handled by a non-profit, funded through a sliding scale fee, that would also provide tech support and training. Others on the TechComm felt the access and services should be provided free through the town.

The TechComm recommended starting a proof of concept network in downtown but extending out to Northside and Pine Knolls. By starting downtown we could have drawn on resources from the university and Lincoln Center to help keep costs down. CHCCS was eager to collaborate on this project and other organizations with interests downtown such as EmPOWERment also expressed interest. This whole topic was "hot" during the last election. It will be interesting to see whether it has any traction left this fall .

"CHCCS was eager to collaborate on this project "

Another instance of CHCCS putting the basic educational needs of our children first, I assume. Ugh.

Crossing the "digital divide" is part of what drove many of the folks, including former members that post on OP - Terri, Brian, Uzoma, Gregg, myself - to work this issue.

I would be happy to work with anyone within the Rogers Road community who would like to share their bandwidth with their neighbors. There's ways to safely and effectively do that now.

Actually, internet access has become very much of a basic educational need. The cost of reference books has gone up to such an extent that the schools don't have all the latest encyclopedias, etc. in their media centers and not all kids have easy access to the public libraries after schools. By using digital references, the system can provide greater access to more current references without having to buy copies for each one of the schools. But in order to rely on digital resources, the system had to ensure that home access would not be a barrier for anyone. Municipal wifi is the most cost effective method for providing that access IMHO.

But we've gone through this all before John. You are dinosaur, hear you roar.

Terri, your idea has merit, but the first poster said nothing of municipal use, that I could see:

"For this pilot project to work not only do the WiFi hot spots need to be where people will be but the Town needs to tell people where they are. A press release will help but it won't be enough to encourage full participation."

Sounds like a minority of the public wanting free access to me. Sorry!

John, I know it's kind of a drag to search but we've discussed quite a few scenarios, business plans, deployments, etc. over the last few years here on OP, CitizenWill, in front of Council, etc.

As Terri mentions, we made a good case for wireless and fiber deployment based solely on municipal needs and opportunities for new levels of service (like the inspections dept. issue - something we called for 5 1/2 years ago and that the county actually implemented - using cell tech - last year). We would pay for this infrastructure out of current expenditures and other savings plus a modest investment (less than the cost of maintaining one stretch of city street).

The idea being that community usage would tag along. I believe that we should try to offer completely free, unmetered wireless service to some level of capability and possibly charge thereafter and use cost plus %10-20 pricing for access to the fiber. The Town can collect from both the end users and the specialized content providers (Time-Warner, Bellsouth, etc.) enough to cover the costs of the services, to build up a capital fund for improvements and to pay for community outreach.

The %10-20 markup is dramatically cheaper than current commercial offerings. Terri brought a study showing that municipal deployments drove the cost of commercial services way down - so folks save whether they use the system or not (like true competition is supposed to).

Remember - the system has utility outside the community component and no one is forced to use it.

Again, there's a whole backstory here and we're talking a rich ecosystem supporting quite a bit of capability.

Thanks Will, for the detail. What do you think about bringing wireless to Rogers Road and similar communities first??

Dang, Terri, time for a new topic I guess.

WillR, I applaud your suggestion to work with Rogers Rd. on this - I would think if you talked to Rev. Campbell, that would be a good place to start.

Anyone who is currently a customer or plans to be a customer of B.S. - be aware that you can ask for the rock bottom service for $10 per month. It's not advertised but it is available as part of a government agreement to fight anti-competitive tendencies deriving from the B.S. and ATT merger.

Considering they hid the offer right off the bat, you got to wonder what else they have in store - say State laws slamming the door on real competition?

More on the $10 offer here.

Also, if you use a 2nd phone line for ADSL, like I do, and you don't use the phone component OR you plan to go with VOIP providers like Vonage, etc., ask B.S. for "naked DSL". You'll be charge a flat rate of $33/month for a line with no regular phone service (there's dialtone and you can use a phone to call 911 or B.S. operators).

Hello everyone, I know this thread is old and maybe this is off-topic but I don't know where else to ask. I recently moved to a place near the fire station downtown Chapel Hill and I signed up for high speed internet with Earthlink which is really Time Warner Cable. I am very frustrated with them as it took them several visits to actually get it installed and all the techs had a different story as to why they could not do it. After a month of service, it stopped working and I believe that a tech disconnected me by accident when connecting or disconnecting another tenant in the building. It will take them several days before they can send someone out to fix that service problem which I think is unacceptable. Are there other options for high-speed internet service in this area? If I look online, I see several different providers but it is not clear who serves chapel hill. I do not have home phone service, I use only cell phone, so I don't know if that matters in the price. Any advice would be appreciated, thanks.

I'm satisfied with my BellSouth DSL service. It's not blazing speed, but fast enough and cheap enough for my needs.

Anyone who is now or ever has had DSL service through BellSouth or AT&T is ineligible for the $10 deal. It's only for NEW customers.

Well that isn't very neighborly.

From my experience with B.S. FastAccess customer service you can usually get a deal reserved for new customers if you ask (and hold on and on and on and on...).

Every 6 months or so, as my latest promotional deal is set to expire, I'll call and ask them to give me the latest deal. Once I mention the boatload of bucks I spend with them they re-up at the lower rate. Of course, your mileage might vary.

BTW, you don't need to add any additional services to get the $10 rate - long distance is a typical one - be careful if the customer service says you do.

One last thing, I found this site handy when shopping for competitive long distance.

Will, this is terrific information. I've been contemplating Bellsouth due to the general ridiculousness of our overall bill.

The fun part of subscribing to DSL service is that you usually have to be within 15,000 feet (aprox. number) of a providers central office. (A CO is a building where DSL routers are located.) Determining whether service is available to you also depends on the type of lines used between you and the Central Office. (such as fiber or copper)

As I suspected, a Time warner tech came during the weekend and disconnected my cable internet because it was not labeled and was also improperly installed. I am back up and running for now but the next time that happens I will be angry enough to switch right away. Bellsouth does offer that $10 a month service but I'd have to order a $22.95 basic phone service to qualify for it. She said they do not offer "naked" DSL or a lower-tier basic phone service than standard local basic phone service. So on that $10 plan the speed is a fraction of what I've got with cable and bundled with the local phone plan, costs the same as cable internet. So I may not switch yet, but thank you all for the information!

Jeremy, if you feel like dealing with some bureaucratic ball passing you can get the $10 deal without the phone service ("naked"). You'll probably have to be insistent at least in terms of finding someone at B.S. willing to work with you.

I called and spoke to someone in 2nd level customer support who assured me that it was possible.

But this underlines exactly the point that BrianR, Terri, Gregg, Uzoma, myself and many other local 'net activists have been trying to make - without real competition the telcos/cablecos of the world will continue to bundle services you don't need or offer grossly substandard service.

Oh, as a point of comparison, your $10/month would net you 32Mbps symmetrical access in South Korea.

Wow, that would be awesome if I could work that out. Next time I call, I will ask for someone in that level of customer support. Thanks a ton for looking into that!

The Financial Times today has an article on wifi service and business models in a few municipalities:


Today's WSJ has an interesting piece on muni Wi-Fi:
Wireless -- With Strings Attached
Cities Building Wi-Fi Networks
Are Running Into Hurdles,
Including Mounting Costs


Concluding paragraph:
Craig Settles, a consultant to cities and companies on municipal-wireless initiatives, says cities that are just now drawing up plans for Wi-Fi are doing so more cautiously. Mr. Settles is advising Glendale, Calif., on its project. Before the city issues a request for proposals from bidders, it is conducting a study to determine which businesses, government workers, and members of the medical community could use the network. The goal is to make sure there will be demand for the Wi-Fi service before the city commits to anything.

"The cities that didn't join the rush last year are taking it slower and are being much more thorough in their analysis," Mr. Settles said.

There is a new Chapel Hill WiFi Google map you can share. [embed it in your site or blog like a YouTube video] If you know of hotspots that aren't on this map AND are open to the public let me know.

Sugarland will have available WiFi and great coffee, FWIW.

Let me know when its live and I'll come use it then put it on the map. :)

The Med Deli added it recently and the owner said he couldn't believe he hadn't done it earlier!

FWIW, maybe we should continue to study ala Fred's suggestion until the US falls to 50th in the world. Only 11 more places to drop - hooray!!!!

What suggestion is that Will?

Will, I still interested in where I suggested that we continue to study WiFi until the US falls to 50th in the world.

I have a article in Sunday's Chapel Hill News called Wi-Fi for the People.

Wi-fi for the people

Brian Russell, the tireless fighter for public wireless in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area, recently wrote two blog posts on the widely read local blog Orange Politics: Chapel Hill WiFi Pilot needs different Hotspots and Where is the WiFi? This received...

Fred demanded this evening that I respond to his question.

Fred, I took your quote from this article, which you say you got from a circulating email, as a suggestion to go even slower in the process of evaluating municipal networking (not just Wifi) for our Town.

Several of these critical emails have been circulating for the last few weeks (could it be election season?).

It would be difficult to imagine a slower, less inclusive process than what has been already going on. If you look at the successful implementations of municipally supported low cost communications infrastructure here and abroad, it is more than clear that this is a necessary component of vibrant "new economy" locales.

We've not only been stuck, we've regressed on pushing this issue forward.

Considering Fred's rather upset approach to my comment, I asked Fred what, specifically, was his purpose in posting the article and excising that particular paragraph. Further, I asked if he supported municipal networking and the Town's current process for evaluating Wifi/muni-networking.

So as not to be charged with misinterpretation of what he said I'll let him respond if he is kindly disposed to (don't worry Fred, you're welcome not to respond).

Will, an "interesting piece" is just that. If you are not interested in hearing about the experiences of others, fine, but don't jump to the conclusion that people only post stuff that reflects their personal position and then call it their "suggestion."

You just might want to wait until after Labor Day to convince people why they might not want to vote for you.

Fair enough.

I'm writing this post in front of the Post Office on Franklin street.
Channel: 6

Thank you Town of Chapel Hill!

Brian, maybe we should make some posters to alert folks they're in a WIFI area. Any ideas for a design?

I really think the Town should put up fixed waterproof signs that use the internationally recognized logo for open wifi )(. [see gif at top of page]

Plus the sign should have the SSID (aka the name of the hotspot) TOWNofCH-WiFi. Because this is being put on Town property it should be made and installed by the Town.

The Town email newsletter "Chapel Hill eNews' just announced WiFi pilot will be at the following locations.

(1.) U.S. Post Office, 179 E. Franklin St.
(2.) Old Town Hall (IFC Shelter), 100 W. Rosemary St.
(3.) Town Parking Lot 5, 108 Church St.
(4.) Hargraves Center, 216 N. Roberson St.
(5.) Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau, 501 W. Franklin St.
(6.) 411 West Restaurant, 411 W. Franklin St.

4. Chapel Hill Launches Wi-Fi Pilot Project

The Town of Chapel Hill this Friday will activate six Wi-Fi hotspots in the downtown area, giving the public free access to the internet along much of Franklin Street.

The provision of wireless internet service to citizens has ranked as a top priority goal for the Town Council. The launching of wireless hotspots in downtown is considered a pilot project and a step forward toward this goal. The hotspots, which show up on wireless devices as "TOWNofCH-WiFi," are located at the following (see map at http://www.townofchapelhill.org/DocumentView.asp?DID=1904):

(1.) U.S. Post Office, 179 E. Franklin St.
(2.) Old Town Hall (IFC Shelter), 100 W. Rosemary St.
(3.) Town Parking Lot 5, 108 Church St.
(4.) Hargraves Center, 216 N. Roberson St.
(5.) Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau, 501 W. Franklin St.
(6.) 411 West Restaurant, 411 W. Franklin St.

Bob Avery, information technology director, said users within 300 feet of a hotspot should be able to connect, although the ability to connect will depend on the capability of the user's device and the amount of obstructions between the user and the antenna. For a street level user, trees, buses, trucks and buildings will all reduce the quality of the connection signal.

The Town will soon provide information to the public by website, media and signage to help promote the hotspots and explain how they may be used. More information will be provided at the homepage of www.townofchapelhill.org.

The hotspots have been installed using Clearwire modems. These are attached to standard Wi-Fi access points with high gain antenna to provide the signal for public use.

The Town will not provide direct user support but does hope to be able to respond to and resolve outages or other service problems as they occur. To report comments and problems, please contact the Town at wifi@townofchapelhill.org.

How many of those places have somewhere to sit, not to mention to plug in a laptop? I just don't understand this pilot.


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.