Municipal WiFi

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Municipal WiFi Discussion:

Class notes, 3/13

Why have Municipal WiFi?

What problems are cities trying to solve?

  • Economic Development
    • Attract Young Talent
      • But how effective is municipal wifi as a tool in this direction?
      • "Drop in the bucket" - only a $20M profit
      • Other factors may far outweigh this kind of program
        • Education, esp. higher education
        • Tolerance of diversity
        • Social "buzz," network effects
    • Attract New Business
      • Conventions and other business meetings
      • "A city on the move" - shed rust-belt image
        • But see above; other factors are probably far more important to this perception.
    • Be the first city to do it, leads to tourism
    • Counterpoint: technology lock-in
      • If wireless is turned into a public utility, then we might miss out on some technological improvements that would've been brought along by a free market.
        • E.g. WiMAX - better than 802.11; should cities wait?
        • The rapid advancement of network technology cuts both ways: going with any one could create lockin. But new developments come along so often; waiting too long would freeze up the whole process.
      • Counter to the counterpoint: the need to exploit tech for profit creates its own lockdowns. See Bluetooth restrictions in Verizon phones.
      • At the bottom, is the Internet different from electricity? Is there a reason that municipalities and states should (or shouldn't) stay out of network services?
        • Network tech is currently developing much more quickly than electricity, and public services are (at least conventionally) much slower to develop.
        • But, the Internet has piggybacked on existing public utility technologies for quite some time.
        • Reasons for having public utilities in the first place: is it because they're important, or because the government is the only organization with the resources to get the infrastructure in place?
          • Or, to ensure consistent access and universal use - don't want private entities e.g. restraining trucks from running on the roads.
  • Bridging the Digital Divide

Cambridge Municipal Wifi: A Debate

A hypothetical debate about whether the city of Cambridge, MA should implement (free?) municipal wireless, and if so, what the program should look like.

Chamber of Commerce

What would be the impact on local businesses? Would it vary by industry?

  • It depends on how it's implemented: if it's done in a way that won't compete with private providers, business is firmly in favor.
    • There is a certain market segment that presently doesn't use any sort of broadband or wireless, and they could become future customers of private ISPs.
  • But if the wireless competes with major ISPs, there is less consensus.
    • Verizon wouldn't be a fan, obviously.
    • But VoIP companies would still be in favor - reduce the price of their service's complements, and all that.

Cambridge City Council

Should the city implement municipal wireless? What are the city's goals, and how likely would this be to help reach them?

  • City council votes: 2.5 votes in favor, several abstentions, and at least one "more study."
  • Allow Philadelphia to be the guinea pig.
    • Cambridge already has H & MIT; lots of Internet users are already well served.
    • However, it's a small, concentrated city and infrastructure wouldn't be too expensive
  • Advantages to WiFi specifically over "the Internet" generally
    • ...
  • Does the city council like the Business Model Committee's plan?
    • The city was thinking more along the lines of subsidizing access for those who couldn't afford it, and relying on private provision of services in light of those subsidies.

Business Model Committee

Should wireless be free, city-subsidized, or something else? How will it be financed?

  • Executive summary: Let Google do it!
  • Hybrid model: greater private ownership, less public involvement.
    • Ideally, a private entity provides the infrastructure at no cost to the ultimate consumer
    • With arrangements to keep government control over ownership and some services, with at least a minimum level of free service.
  • Comparison to other systems
    • SF - is this different?