Philly Reveals Wireless Plan

From WiFi Planet --

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Eric Griffith

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, at noon today, John Street, the mayor of Philadelphia, Penn., and the cities CIO Dianah Neff planned to make official the business plan behind Wireless Philadelphia

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-- see below), the city's embattled move to bring wireless broadband to everyone in its surroundings.

The cost will be $10 million dollars to install as many as 3,000 wireless nodes on light poles across the 135 square mile city, with an additional $5 million to run the network for the first two years, according to Neff. The money won't come from tax payersa major gripe of the anti-municipal-wireless crowdbut will be raised through taxable bonds or getting low-interest loans. The money would be repaid in four years.

No one company has been picked yet to do the install or provide equipment for the network, but Neff believes a selection will be made by June 30, with deployment to start in August. Subscribers could be online by the end of the year.

The network will be owned by a non-profit also called Wireless Philadelphia, which will be run by a CEO and appointees from Mayor Street. Wireless Philadelphia will make money by licensing the network to carriers, which would resell access to end users. Neither the city nor Wireless Philadelphia would actual serve as the wireless ISP. Licensers will be required to keep the cost for end-users downlikely lower than $20 per month. Even less for low-income homes.

Right now, they estimate that 42% of the city's denizens are not online. This is usually due to the cost of broadband.

The companies Wireless Philadelphia could let use the network may be some that tried to stop it in the first place. Local providers of cable and DSL based broadband like City Councilman Frank Rizzo has long been an opponent of the Wireless Philadelphia project, and says it is not something government should do. He fears taxpayer money will be needed if subscribers don't sign up, and that the technology will be outdated very soon. In a op-ed piece in today's Chicago Tribune

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Rizzo implies that Wi-Fi is "just another Big Dig," referring to the highly over-budget highway project in Boston that is still having issues even after completion. He says "the real costs could range from $30 million to $100 million for a feasible network" to cover Philly.

Wireless Philadelphia has gotten around the city council by not using public funds and by going non-profit. They don't need the council's approval.

The push to put a wireless cloud across Philly has been at the center of attacks against muni-backed Wi-Fi networks for months. A bill was passed by the Pennsylvania state legislature last yearjust weeks after the news surfaced that Philly wanted such a network that would prevent any state municipalities from installing a broadband network without an incumbent provider getting a right of first refusal. In December of last year, Verizon waived that right, and the project proceeded. Other cities in the state have until January 1, 2006 to give their local telcos a chance to put in a network first.

In February, a Washington D.C. based group called the New Millenium Research Council (NMRC), issued a report called "Not in the Public Interest: The Myth of Municipal W-Fi Networks "

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, which called into question the necessity, anti-competitiveness and overall viability of municipal run wireless networks.

Many have charged the NRMC with a "lack of transparency," especially in terms of the groups backing, potentially by big telcos like Verizon. They also say the report ignores many successful deployments of municipal wireless, such as the network in Chaska, Minn.

That network is powered by equipment from Tropos Network, and that company's CEO, Ron Sege, has become one of the most vocal proponents of muni wireless networks (which is no surprise, as he wants his company to sell more products). In a commentary at ZDNet this week

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, he argues that the anti-muni groups have "flawed arguments" and says "Policies that limit the rapid deployment of broadband wireless networks mean limiting the real benefits of these networks to public safety, economic growth and the education and enrichment of our citizens."

Philly and Chaska are far from the only cities with, or considering, a wireless Wi-Fi cloud. Others include Minneapolis, St. Paul & Moorhead, Minn.; Alexandria, Va.; Rochester & Buffalo, N.Y.; Rio Rancho, N.M.; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Ill.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Lexington, Ky.; Addison & San Antonio, Texas; and Lompoc, Isla Vista, Fullerton, Cerritos, & San Francisco, Calif; Independence, KS; others. There are many more Tropos already claims over 125 metro-scale customers. And that's just the Wi-Fi networks. Many more have fixed wireless broadband that uses pre-WiMax or proprietary equipment to replace the physical lines needed for DSL and cable modems, even T1 leased lines.

However, many states have passed or are trying to pass legislation similar to Pennsylvania's that would, at worst, make city-wide wireless networks illegal. Those states include West Virginia, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, Illinois, and others. Similar bills were tried in Indiana and Virginia but died in committee, according the March 2005 report

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City of Philadelphia will be hosting the Wireless Internet Institute (W2i) Digital Cities Convention: The Frontier of Broadband Wireless Applications at the Pennsylvania Convention Center May 2-4, 2005

Promote Open Metro-scale Wireless Connective Citywide Wireless Philadelphia aims to strengthen the City's economy and transform Philadelphia's neighborhoods by providing wireless internet access throughout the city. Wireless Philadelphia will work to create a digital infrastructure for open-air internet access and to help citizens, businesses, schools, and community organizations make effective use of this technology to achieve their goals while providing a greater experience for visitors to the City.

Advocate of Wireless Community Networking Appointed by Mayor John F. Street in July 2004, the Wireless Philadelphia Executive Committee (Committee) serves as an advisory/advocacy group for wireless community networking through community outreach programs, communications with the press and participation in meetings and conferences. Wireless Philadelphia seeks to educate the general public and businesses about the benefits of wireless community networking. Wireless Philadelphia seeks to utilize existing wireless technologies and incorporate evolving wireless technologies as they become available.

Provide a Forum for Wireless Networking Wireless Philadelphia provides a forum for discussion to enhance usage of emerging wireless technologies especially for those related to building wireless community networks. The Committee seeks to promote the third-party development of research, development and use of mobile mesh networks to enrich neighborhood economic viability.

Recommend Policy

The Committee will formulate recommendations in several policy areas including fees, roles and responsibilities, extent of service, privacy and security. The Committee will identify possible legal and regulatory barriers and help develop strategies to overcome them.

Future Uses

Wireless Philadelphia will develop a process through which the initial outdoor network can be expanded to allow indoors utilization by residents, businesses, visitors, institutions, and students. In so doing, Wireless Philadelphia shall coordinate efforts with other agencies of City to maximize the social, developmental, and educational return .

From the Chicago Tribune --
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Wi-Fi: Is it just another Big Dig?

By Frank Rizzo a member at large of the Philadelphia City Council Published April 7, 2005

In Chicago and elsewhere, city administrators are considering a massive, open-ended public works project: municipally owned and subsidized wireless (Wi-Fi) networks. The goal, say the bureaucrats, is to capitalize on advances in wireless technology to build a local information nirvana that will help bridge the digital divide.

But before embarking on this seemingly visionary agenda, local governments should take a closer look at municipal forays into the world of telecommunications. For if they do, they might find that history littered with cost overruns, debt and rapidly outdated systems. And if they look under the hood at what self-interested consultants are selling them on projected costs of new wireless systems, they are likely to find a bit of Enron-style accounting.

The wireless revolution has much seductive allure, to be sure. Wi-Fi hot spots -- whereby a hard-wired router sends wireless signals in an area with a radius of 300 feet -- abound in many homes, coffee shops and elsewhere.

The even more robust Wi-Max technologies, with propagation capability over many miles, may also soon come to the market. These new services have aided mostly upscale consumers with expensive laptop computers.

But while a wireless router at home is relatively inexpensive, an entirely new wireless network built by a local government is likely to be very costly for many years -- when municipal budgets are expected to be increasingly strapped. In Philadelphia's 135 square miles, a wireless network would likely require well over 20,000 access points

-- remote routers, essentially -- with no more than 10 subscribers per access point to ensure satisfactory speeds.

The city that I represent as a council member at large -- Philadelphia

-- seems to be the national test tube for this debate. Here, the chief information officer -- backed up by a battery of financially interested analysts -- projects that the City of Brotherly Love could construct such a system for less than $11 million.

But with numbers like this, she could wind up in a heap of trouble were she held accountable to investor disclosure laws.

Simply put, believing one can cover our 135 square miles with a wireless network for $11 million is like believing the moon is made of green cheese.

Independent analyses and prevailing market prices for network and construction costs make clear that the real costs could range from $30 million to $100 million for a feasible network. And this is just the starting point. For most cities with a greater landmass, the costs would be even greater.

Once committed, taxpayers are likely to be on the hook for the foreseeable future. Sheer maintenance will cost annually a minimum of

10 to 15 percent of the initial upfront costs, according to most experts. Further, engineers estimate that an astounding 60 percent of the equipment requires replacement or upgrading every three to five years. These expenses, together with other operating and administrative costs, network redundancy and security over ever insecure wireless technologies -- as the hacking into Paris Hilton's cell phone reminds us -- could cost tens of millions of additional dollars. And, as many experts tell us, the city's new wireless network could quickly be outdated with advances in technology. It is precisely this kind of unrealistic planning that created Boston's Big Dig tunnel project fiasco.

Indeed, municipal forays into local telecom networks have created a sea of red ink in Georgia, Iowa, Oregon and elsewhere. Realizing this, and faced increasingly with demands for greater budgetary scrutiny over these proposals, some city administrators are engaging in a strange dance: They argue that they can solve the problem of ballooning network costs simply by handing off the network to a private vendor.

The notion of cash-squeezed local governments seeking to enter an ever more competitive marketplace, only to then hand off a taxpayer-financed network in the form of a subsidy to one competitor in that marketplace, would seem an odd role for government -- particularly in a city that represents the birthplace of democracy. Remember, of course, that the wireless Internet service industry is increasingly competitive, with scores of carriers entering the marketplace. In Chicago alone, there are hundreds of hot spots.

If, on the other hand, local governments really want ownership of such speculative ventures, they should stop playing hide the ball and instead be honest with the taxpayers -- the bill payers -- about real costs and the need for the government's entry into an increasingly competitive industry.

What's really needed is a true national broadband policy. Rather than subsidizing narrow-band technologies, the federal Universal Service Fund should promote market-based incentives to ensure universal rollout of broadband technology and access to needed computer hardware for underserved communities.

This kind of comprehensive, thoughtful approach would dramatically boost our economy and our literacy without putting vulnerable municipal budgets at dire risk with Don Quixote searches for the broadband cure.

Copyright 2005, Chicago Tribune

From WiFi Planet --

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(there are many links in this article -- go to the site to go deeper)

Think Tank Trashes Municipal-Run Wireless By Eric Griffith

A report out today from the Washington D.C.-based New Millenium Research Council (NMRC), called "Not in the Public Interest The Myth of Municipal W-Fi Networks," calls into question the necessity, the anti-competitiveness, and the overall viability of towns, cities, or counties installing wireless broadband and treating it like a public utility.

However, Wi-Fi-supporting pundits point out potential issues with not only the arguments made in the report but also the objectivity of the authors, who the pundits brand as "sock puppets of industry."

The NRMC was created in 1999 to "develop workable, real-world solutions to the issues and challenges confronting policy makers, primarily in the fields of telecommunications and technology." The group is an "independent project" of Issue Dynamics, Inc. (IDI), a group that has the support of such incumbent telcos as Bell South, Comcast, SBC, Sprint, Verizon and Verizon Wireless to name just a few (according to reports at eWeek.)

In a phone briefing held today with journalists, the authors of various sections of the report gave a summary of their analysis, all of which uniformly question the need for any kind of government-run and funded wireless broadband system. Arguments against include:


Municipal wireless networks will be funded by taxpayers. "When a private sector company fails, it must respond. But government [programs] can be propped up with additional tax dollars," according to Technology Counsel Braden Cox, counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Past failures:

"Nearly every municipal network of the last decade has failed badly," says David P. McClure, president and CEO of U.S. Internet Industry Association. When asked directly what municipal networks had failed, speakers mentioned Marietta, Georgia, a utility district in Washington state, and others though not all are necessarily wireless.

Not addressing the "Digital Divide:"

McClure's section of the report states that the phrase is a catchall, and can't be limited just to a lack of free broadband. He also says "econometric data shows no specific link between broadband availability and economic development." And, he says, it won't increase tourism either, since it won't offer more than the Wi-Fi already available in public access hotspots run by private companies.

It's already covered:

Steven Titch, a senior fellow with the Heartland Institute, said that major cities proposing municipal broadband (like Philadelphia and San Francisco) are already well served by existing hotspots. Citing numbers from, Titch says San Francisco, for example, has 399 hotspot locations, 42 of which are free. He says that most municipal networks would only cover areas like downtowns and airports anyway areas that are usually well-covered with Wi-Fi connections already.

Government Censorship:

"If broadband ownership is by municipalities or county governments, you have the potential for government censorship that most of the journalists on this call would bristle against vehemently," said Barry Aarons, analyst with the Institute for Policy Innovation. Many states, including Indiana and Nebraska, are already contemplating bans on municipal broadband networks, much like the one that was signed into law in Pennsylvania not long ago. Big companies like Intel are considering lobbying against such measuresmunicipalities are, after all, potential customers for future WiMax long-range wireless products that would be powered by Intel chips.

Glenn Fleishman, editor of the popular blog Wi-Fi Networking News, took the group to task before the report was even out in a post on February 1, after BusinessWeek's blog took the group's findings at face value. While he says he doesn't wholeheartedly oppose the NMRC's point of view, he was put off by the lack of "transparency" of the groups the authors represent. Most are seen as being possibly funded by telecom organizations, such as Verizon, which stand to lose out to municipalities doing their own wireless. (Verizon, however, gave a right of refusal to Philadelphia after first trying to block that city's network plans even after the Pennsylvania anti-muni-network law passed.)

Esme Vos has been writing exclusively about municipal wireless networks on her blog MuniWireless for two years. She's previously written about the Heartland Institute when it stated in October 2004 that that "virtually everyone who wants broadband services can get DSL from their telephone company or cable modem service from their cable company"a sentiment they echoed in today's call. Vos said at the time, "Where is this paradise? Maybe in Seoul, Korea."

Today on her site, referring to an early article Heartland placed on its own site as a preview to today's NMRC report, she said "For some reason, it does not cite the successful municipal Wi-Fi (and wired) deployments we all know about: Chaska (MN), Scottsburg (IN), Auburn (IN), among others. No, in the world of Heartland, they do not exist."

She counters that, contrary to what the NRMC report says, the false hopes don't lay with the municipal broadband deployments, but in the "false hopes propagated for so long by the cable and DSL incumbents, the one that promises to bring fast, cheap broadband to YOUR neighborhood. Only now people are very impatient and the equipment is becoming very cheap."

Fleishman says in his rebuttal against the same Heartland article, "Municipal broadband is almost the last resort of cities and towns that can no longer wait on the promises or lack of promises from incumbents." In a perfect world, he says, municipalities wouldn't have to build networks: the private companies would already have done so "without sock puppets making their arguments for them."

From ZDNet --

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Should cities hook up to WiFi? By Ron Sege

Commentary -- Recently, parties lacking experience and facts have suggested that municipalities should not promote or fund broadband wireless networks. Their arguments ignore a growing number of successful municipal deployments and rely on incorrect assertions.

These flawed arguments put the public at risk of making incorrect policy decisions and having to live with the consequences. Policies that limit the rapid deployment of broadband wireless networks mean limiting the real benefits of these networks to public safety, economic growth and the education and enrichment of our citizens. They mean that the United States will forgoe its best option for improving its dismal world ranking in terms of per-capita availability of broadband.

Broadband wireless networks are the fastest, lowest cost and simplest way to increase broadband availability. Municipal broadband wireless networks do not require digging up streets, complex RF engineering or expensive subscriber devices. Wireless Philadelphia, based on similar, albeit smaller systems, conservatively estimates a citywide mesh network will cost $60,000 per square mile to construct. With a land area of 135 square miles, this translates into $8.1 million to install the mesh network. Add a comfortable margin (based on Tropos experience) for security systems, billing systems, network management systems, routers to connect to the Internet and the like and, all in, the cost of deploying a broadband wireless network in Philadelphia would be about $11 million.

Municipal broadband wireless networks today provide many benefits to cities and their citizens. For instance,, a citywide Wi-Fi network in Chaska, Minnesota, projects that revenues from their 2,000+ subscribers will fund the network's operating costs, pay the interest and repay the principal -- without using taxpayer funds. The 16-square mile network was financed (less than $600,000) with four-year equipment certificates. And 25 percent of Chaskas homes have signed on for broadband Internet access speeds (>1Mbps, symmetrical) at dial-up prices ($16/month).

Other cities have turned to broadband wireless to support public safety and other operations. In San Mateo, California, police officers now spend 8,000 more hours a year on their beats, because a municipal broadband wireless network gives them mobile access to databases and in-field reporting. In Corpus Christi, Texas, a broadband wireless network is automating utility meter reading, reading 73 water meters per second, compared to minutes per meter using manual processes. New Orleans installed a broadband wireless network to support public safety video surveillance. The system was quickly and easily installed, and reduced the murder rate by 57 percent in six months and auto theft by 25 percent in the covered areas.

While cities are improving public services with broadband wireless networks, many project that their networks will provide more bandwidth than city workers will consume. Mindful of tight budgets, they intend to sell this excess bandwidth to help pay for the initial installation and operating costs. This is good fiscal prudence.

Often municipalities foot a fraction of the cost of installation and operation in other ways. Business models include public-private partnerships such as allowing service providers to use city rights of way tenant in exchange for low-cost accounts for use by city workers. Other possible models allow service providers to lease capacity on municipally owned wireless networks, split installation costs with private entities in exchange for service and revenue sharing, or provide capital to for-profit and non-profit entities in exchange for an ownership stake. Different models are appropriate for different local goals and circumstances.

Fears that new technology will quickly obsolete municipal wireless networks are vastly overblown. To date, over 100 million Wi-Fi client devices have been shipped. Wi-Fi is connecting an increasing assortment of devices, not just laptops and PDAs but also security cameras, traffic management systems, meter readers, location sensors, cell phones and much more. And Wi-Fi will get even faster and more capable over time. Further, new technologies such as WiMAX are easily integrated into broadband wireless networks.

In conclusion, the parties debating this issue must consider the facts outlined above. With these facts, they must also acknowledge that broadband wireless networks today provide numerous benefits to many constituencies. With the facts in hand, lets develop policies at the state and federal level that encourage the development of broadband wireless networks, not ones that stifle their creation. The winners will be the citizens, no matter who deploys a broadband wireless network--municipality or service provider.


Ron Sege is CEO of Tropos Networks, which sells equipment to carriers, service providers and municipalities deploying metro-scale Wi-Fi.

NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at

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