Wireless Carrboro

Terri brought up the question of what is currently happening with the town of Carrboro's wireless initiative. At this point, town hall and Weaver Street are the only wired areas. Of course, Nextel's experiment on regionwide broadband wireless access may make all of this moot. But anyone have thoughts on Carrboro's program and what the next steps are/should be?



Update on 'Carrboro Mime Theatre' (or how about 'Carrboro Kabuki?'--Hey, maybe we're on to something here):

Monique, our broadcast tech, is doing the best she can with old, partially functioning equipment. Apparently, a critical piece of hardware that controls the camera signal output is blown, which sets up a buzz that interferes with the audio signal. This device can only be replaced in conjuction with replacing the camera itself and its twin, which necessitates the replacement of the other camera as well (we have two). As well, the mikes may very well be leftovers from the Burns and Allen show or one of its contemporaries.

But fear not. For those dedicated masochists who feel compelled to subject themselves to the aural portion of our weekly gabfests (Sorry--I get like this toward the end of the budget cycle), help is on the way:

Monique has put together a package which will replace this equipment, solving all of these issues: New mikes, cameras, and a PC based control and signal distribution system. The improvements--if approved-- will be financed through a PEG charge through TWC that will add a few cents (I believe about 6--but I don't have it in front of me) to the cable bill until it's paid off.

So, soon, to continue to enjoy 'Carrboro Mime Theatre', you'll hafta hit the mute.



I like the Mesh network idea because of it's ad hoc nature. Meaning there is no one point of technical failure or economic failure (town budget can't afford it in the future)....or leverage point for political or economic control. The town of Carrboro would serve itself and the citizenry well by keeping a public Wi-Fi network OPEN. As in free from toll booth control stuctures.

Honnestly, I belive that the future, maybe the far future, of electronic communication will be mostly computer to computer - Ad hoc. [like walkie talkies] Not Computer to Server to Computer - DNS based Internet.

A Mesh network would automatically provide a Local Area Network to allow sharing with each other as well as having a gateway to the internet.

Interestingly multiple wi-fi networks, mesh or otherwise, could exist side by side.

Believe it or not, I was just flipping through channels, and found the Carrboro budget worksession.....

and I could hear what they were saying!!!!


Alex, my point is that if all the businesses created an open wireless mesh, then the general public in downtown Carrboro would get access to wireless internet on that mesh as well - and perhaps with very little investment by the tax-payers. Also, presumably one of the values of such a mesh is that it would attract and keep businesses in downtown Carrboro.

Jeff, I appreciate the complement. I think you are pretty smart, too.

In the interest of economy, I'll respnd to several posts in one...


I believe that our WAN is in-house, but I'll have to check on that. Our portals are T1.

2) Notwithstanding the infantile sniping between Mark and Jeff around minutae (technical and otherwise), surrounding the downtown wireless question, I would recommend that anyone interested in the issue consult the New Vision for Downtown Carrboro document, the acccompanying Technology Plan documents, as well as the budget abstracts outlining the purpose behind the movement to facilitate greater connectiviy as a service to end users(all this is available online at www.townofcarrboro.org. and if it's all too confusing, call James Harris, our Community and Economic Development Director at 918-7319).

The purpose of this effort has NOT been envisioned, Mark, thus far, as a program to provide commercial enterprises with a free conduit to the web, but, again, a public amenity to attract end users to enhance our downtown as the central hub of activity in our community. The notion of how we govern the use of this resource as it grows may be a useful outgrowth of this discussion, and would be probably best addressed by Andy Vogel, our (Carrboro's) IT director.

3)Wretched/uneven/nonexistent board meeting broadcast quality:

(for those who do not find it a form of torture in and of itself)

We recently hired new folks to run it for the express purpose of dealing with these concerns . Sounds like it ain't workin'. The question that needs to be answered is whether the problem is in our feed, or TWC's distribution. Unlike most folks in this business (90% of whom are probably afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder), I HATE to watch myself on TV--Hence, no clue. I'll check on it and get back to y'all. Thanks for letting us know.




I'm not sure which to believe, your aw-shucks-I-can't-do-that-math comment, or your calculus of how businesses can save money under the right complex circumstances. You're a smart guy, and I tend to believe the latter.


Here's how Austin is doing it...


Businesses maintain their broadband accounts, and the nonprofit provides the equipment and runs the network. I like Mark Chilton's idea a little better, but Austin offers an inspiring example of a service that's up and running and working very well.

More info...


Jeff, I wish I could take credit for calculating your tax bill. I am not that smart (or funny).

You have a good point, though about the cost of wireless service throughout downtown. The Town cannot afford to do the whole thing by itself right now. I like Terri's idea of exploring a utility model, although I understand that Carrboro staffmembers think that it would be impossible to operate at a scale that would justify even the cost of the billing system. I am not sure I believe in that argument, but that is what I have been told.

I do think that we can get the private sector involved in making downtown wireless a reality. If we can find the right technology to connect 802.11 systems from building to building in a mesh (as opposed to a daisy chain), then a reliable network could be set up downtown incrementally. For example, if offices close to the century center would agree to buy their own equipment for a couple hundred bucks and tap into the Century Center's wireless system, then they would also be re-broadcasting to a little bit larger area than the century center's network now reaches. Businesses that are in turn near the enlarged mesh could also then invest in the equipment and make the mesh even bigger.

Once a big enough mesh is in place nearly every downtown business could be in range (and so could some near-downtown neighborhoods). The key is fostering an environment of co-operation among the businesses. It would be in each business's interest to do so because they could each abandon their current $50+/month internet subscriptions.

Furthermore, if enough businesses did it, then we could have a strong network that worked along multiple pathways so that even when one office's system goes down, you still get the internet through a different line of repeaters leading to Town Hall or the Century Center. This is what I mean when I talk about a mesh. A daisy chain can be ruined by just one person's system being down. A mesh can only be shut down by equipment failure at multiple, multiple sites.

Melanie is right. The quality is so bad, I wonder why they even bother broadcasting. You turn the meeting on and can never tell what they're talking about. What a tease!

Response to my anonymous detractor:

1) We were talking about doing the entire towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, not Carrboro's budgeted $5,000 for downtown businesses, which you know is a completely different thing.

2) Who are you? More to the point, Mark Chilton, is that you using this root moniker, on the Pacifica thread and/or this one?

Melanie--the issue is cost. It's cheap (relatively speaking) to put in WIFI system but incredibly expensive to upgrade video and audio infrastructure. BUT....if everyone in town had access to WIFI they could broadcast via the web instead of over cable and the audio-video upgrades would be cheaper. I think that's right, but if not, I hope someone corrects me.


The Town will be spending (under current proposals) $5,000 on promoting the nascent Wireless downtown program. This is about 0.05 cents (no, not five cents, but rather 1/20 of one cent) on the town's tax rate for 2004. I calculate that Jeff Vanke's tax bill will go up just under 70 cents for the entire YEAR. I hope it won't break you, Jeff.

ummm--not to throw a wrench in the works, and I think a wireless downtown is an interesting thought--BUT--have anyof you tried to watch a Carrboro Town Meeting on cable lately? My husband and I have taken to calling it Carrboro Mime Theater. Don't you think the town should get their SOUND SYSTEM up and working before they start funding WiFi?


Alex, Does Carrboro own/maintain it's own wide area network or do you lease from one of the commercial operations, such as Time Warner?


While I'll go into greater detail later, we are working on a step-by-step program to light up our urban core with wireless hot spots. This is an integral component of our New Vision for Downtown Carrboro initiative. We did explore the idea of some utility model, but it was determined by our staff that it would be more cumbersome to set up and administer such a system than any benefit to be derived. As such, we view this effort as the provision of a public amenity that will make our downtown a more attractive place to live, work and socialize, leveraging additional economic activity.

The costs to run this system have been determined to be minimal, and largely confined to the installation of new antennae (which are very inexpensive, and virtually maintenance-free), that run off of our existing fiber-optic network. We have a reserve of bandwidth in our existing infrastructure that can absorb a substantial user base at no additional cost. In short, in our judgement, this is a high-value-low-cost amenity that sets us apart from other communities. So come downtown, and log on!



Jeff, it would be quite possible to deploy the infrastructure in such a way that there would be no required tax increase.

I don't want to increase the tax burden to fund this but would rather pay for it by providing reduced cost and greater efficiencies in current services.

For instance, if Chapel Hill is spending $15k a month for in-town cell-phone usage (let's say), and switching to VOIP and WiFi cell-phones saves $10K a month, we could use the residual to pay for infrastructure.

Or, let's say, whenever Chapel Hill deploys the new traffic signalling system or UNC lays its 'fat-pipe' from main campus to UNC/North or the new greenways go in or any one of the numerous roads works/development projects/etc. digs trenches we throw in some fiber to connect the dots (WiFi hotspots) we can do a buildout for an extremely reasonable cost. We can recover this cost by dropping TWC as the town's ISP.

There's many ways to save $$$$ deploying an intelligent infrastructure - bucks that could underwrite the deployment.

Will, Points well taken, although only your first kind of example -- direct cost offsetting -- would actually spare taxpayers.

It's interesting to think about different funding models. Since non-profit really means not-for-profit; there are still signficant costs associated with the management of a non-profit and many non-profits have very bloated budgets. Although I understand the concern over raising taxes, I agree with Will that a good return on investment study could identify many ways in which long-term implementation could offset short-term start up costs, basically no or minimal investment after the first couple of years.

I feel like communications is a basic right that should be funded/managed as part of a government's infrastructure issue (economies of scale if no other reason). I've been trying to think of other basic services that are offered city-wide as a non-profit and I can't think of any. In Blacksburg VA, one of the first "wired" communities, the utility model worked for individual citizens but it also benefitted the schools and businesses.

Terri & all-

I am not in favor of a utility model because of the bureaucracy problems. Utilities are run with a private for profit model...not like community public works. I like the infrastructure ideas you mentioned allot. Making sure everyone has access to the Internet is much like the struggles of the past to make sure everyone in Appalachia had a telephone.

WillR is right. Time-Warner and Bell South will scream bloody murder if the town of Carrboro or Chapel Hill really got involved in providing Wi-Fi. A non-profit model could fend off the anti-competitive wining of big business. (I hope) There is a SERIOUSLY strong movement right now towards privatization. It’s amazing that Chapel Hill can run the busses like they do.

The goal here is to get involved in providing Wi-Fi before corporations discover a profitable business model that they can technically implement. We may be to late.

As for Bush...he won't be president forever. Maybe we can get those community tech funds back.

Either way funds exist to do this. (Foundations, town funds, individual donations, etc.) Carrboro is a perfect place with great town government. It already has a precedence of successful hybrid community business/non-profits. Tho nothing is perfect.

-Brian R.

Anyway you cut it, town-funded WiFi is a tax on non-internet users with no direct benefits to them. Any indirect benefits, by increasing tax value on commerical properties, would risk increasing taxation on the non-internet residential properties I'm talking about. By definition, those people are not here to speak for themselves.

And many of us other internet users don't spend $70/month. My family just made the change from dial-up at $18 to RR at $45. I don't even know what it would cost (or what it would take) to make our home laptops accessible to a wireless network.

There might nonetheless be an argument for making our two towns all wireless, depending on the numbers. But good luck telling Carrboro's barbershops and hair stylists, including around Lloyd Street, among other businesses and residents, why they should pay more in taxes for it.

I suggested to the Chapel Hill town technology board that an integrated deployment of a public-based WiFi network could help not only the citizenry and business community but also provide direct benefits to the town.

For instance, WiFi phones could be used by public works, fire and police personnel. WiFi could be used to monitor the bus lines and provide timely updates of bus movements. An integrated approach could provide efficiencies in current services and expand the range of town services at a very reasonable and incremental cost.

From a business perspective, WiFi could be used as a catalyst to attract more knowledge-based business to town. It could enhance existing business activities and spur development of new resources.

Of course, from a community perspective, it's a real win. Opening Internet access to all segments of our community, WiFi and a public-based network could increase the openness of our government, it could provide greater educational access, help non-profits and provide a novel platform for new community services.

As a wired community, Chapel Hill could demonstrate (once again) its forward thinking.

I expect that Time-Warner and Bellsouth and possibly even Duke Power will claim that community-based Internet is somehow un-American, but that's total BS. The telcos have definitely tried to squash community-based infrastructure but we can resist their attempts.

Finally, as far as support. Chapel Hill is blessed in this respect. We could probably work a deal with UNC to piggy-back on their support infrastructure. I imagine that the quid pro quo would be that as the town expands Internet access to everyone, including the significant number of students living here, and helps extend the reach of UNC's network, that, for a modest fee, we could contract with the UNC Helpline to support the community (just as we've cooperated on the bus service).

Brian--how would you feel about making WIFI a city/community owned utility instead of going through a nonprofit? Last I heard the Bush administration had eliminated all the community technology funds that could have helped set this up as a non-profit.

Why not consider wireless access as a utility? The town could install the hubs (as Duke/Piedmont install the major electrical lines) and then developers would be required to tie in each new construction. A plan could be set up for existing construction to be eventually tied in, based on density. For example, apartment complexes that serve multiple families could have 2 years while single family homes would have longer. We could also look into providing some kind of short-term need based loan program. Of course, I see internet access as basic as phone service and believe that we should not penalize low income folks by setting up services that are far beyond their means.

I’m a local Wi-Fi user and I *love* the idea of www.tocwireless.net. I believe the town of Carrboro and other non-corporate sponsors need to provide this group the resources they need.

Unfortunately relying on local businesses to provide hardware, maintenance, and gateways to the Internet is unrealistic. The short and long term cost may be recoupable but they’ll want to start the access point and then forget about it.

A PUCLIC resource with the power of fast mobile Internet access needs to be run and maintained by the PEOPLE not corporations. The more I read about the privatization of prisons in the US and abusive corporate interrogators in Iraq the less I want to see our democracy controlled by a middle man.

As you may surmise the Internet is OUR democracy. Simply put, if orangepolitics was a for-profit product of WCHL, as wished by it’s owner in another thread, it would suck. Think of the future success of tocwireless in the same way.

Also the biggest expense here is not the setup of wireless access points but long term human assisted maintenance. (Help keep local geeks employed, PLEASE!) A local community run non-profit with a good budget could do this AND help secure our local democracy in the process.

Chilton you need to speak up now. :-)

I hope Carrboro and other Orange Co municipalities pursue community based wireless service rather than expecting citizens to pay $70+ a month for wireless access. Technology has the potential for making our society much more democratic (http://www.publicus.net/articles/edemresources.html) if we can ensure that everyone has direct access to elected officials and town staff/services, and that our elected officials and staff can communicate more directly with citizens. I feel communications access should be a government service (I know....more taxes) rather than a fee for service. I applaud Carrboro for taking the local lead.

Well said. I'd say Carrboro is moving in the right direction, though there hasn't been that much in the way of resources dedicated to this endeavor. Considering how dense downtown is, it would make sense to try to buy some kind of wireless access to bridge the gaps in the network and allow for access in high density areas (the businesses across the street from Weaver Street, Fidelity Street apartment complexes, the Lloyd Street neighborhood and businesses, etc. Would there be a way to encourage businesses to pool their resources to go wireless? I would think that the Artscenter, the pizza place, Visart,and the Cat's Cradle could potentially all run off of one wireless network with antenna and also provide service. Of course, not being very techno savvy, I'm not sure of the security pitfalls of this type of sharing.



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