May 04, 2005
Municipal Wi-Fi around the country

Dwight points to this story about the battle over free municipal WiFi elsewhere in the country. HB789 and its ilk are popping up in state leges all over the country, and the telcos are duking it out with the cities that want to invest in the new technology.

I suppose I'd have more sympathy for the telcos if their track record weren't so abysmal. The reason I have a cable modem and not DSL is that when we moved into our new house three years ago, DSL was not available in my area. I don't live out in the far-flung suburbs - I live less than two miles from downtown, but my (former) ISP couldn't provide the service to me, and Southwestern Bell couldn't tell me when the infrastructure would be in place. Yes, that was 2002, but c'mon. DSL was not brand new at that time. I knew plenty of people who'd had it for awhile, including two who lived less than a mile from me. If DSL access was so spotty in the heart of Houston, then what hope is there for the little towns in rural Texas?

That article had a link to this piece about the plans that the telcos have to compete with cable TV once they're allowed to do so. That's what the fuss (and the TV ads) about HB3179 is about. I admit I'm curious as to what a non-satellite competitor to Time-Warner Cable would look like, but I think they'll have a hard time gaining traction in this market. Not so much because people dearly love their local cable company, but because of inertia. I have a setup that works and that isn't too expensive, so you've got some hurdles to clear just to get me to listen to your sales pitch in the first place. It'll take a really good deal to make me risk mucking around with what I've got. I put a high cost on inconvenience and downtime, and I bet I'm not alone in that.

That said, I do think the telcos would have a decent chance to succeed in the TV-delivery market if they're given a chance and they're willing to take the time and money to give it a fair shot, and I do think that service and cost to consumers would improve as a result. I'm just not sure that HB3179, with all its lard and with the (in my opinion legitimate) concerns that TWC has raised about coverage, PEG channels, and right-of-way fees, is the way to let them in.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 04, 2005 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack

It's going to take a long time for DSL to be as convenient as a cable modem, from what I've seen. DSL is like Linux--for geeks who want something it offers and/or don't mind messing with technology.

I wasn't that happy with SBC as a DSL provider, but after Flashcom and UUNet went under, I thought it was safe. Here in NYC, we have more options.

Posted by: Ginger Stampley on May 4, 2005 7:20 AM

"Here in NYC, we have more options."

Ginger, this may be true now, but when I moved to Staten Island in 2002, the only high-speed option I had was via a cable modem. DSL became available in my area about 6 months ago.

Posted by: William Hughes on May 4, 2005 8:31 AM

We're in Jersey City, which is the Pasa-git-down-dena of Manhattan's Houston. I think we had a choice between Speakeasy (our provider, whom we love), Verizon, and Panix, plus cable. That was early 2004. The decision was easy because we'd heard so many good things about Speakeasy.

In Houston we had 3 DSL choices at one point. We used all of them. We were the number 3 customer for the first DSL provider in Houston, so we went through all the pains of early adoption.

2004 gives you a more mature DSL market in NYC than 2002 did, but 2005 in Houston should give you a lot more mature market than 1998 did, and I'm not sure it's a that much more mature.

Posted by: Ginger Stampley on May 4, 2005 8:43 AM

I agree. I've been a RR customer for 3 years now, and though I've moved 3-4 times during that period, I always check whether TWC is the provider, to be sure I can get RR.

I have no problem with TWC. It's a behemoth, but it gives me TV and fast internet at a relatively reasonable price, and they have good service. one behemoth I don't mind, and infinitely preferable to the goddamn phone companies.

Posted by: TP on May 4, 2005 9:36 AM

Guys, don't feel too bad.

I currently live in China Spring TX which is a suburban area about 5 miles NW of Waco. I'm about one mile too far from the nearest switch to get DLS service from SBC and Time Warner Cable is still about 4 miles down the road. The SBC tech who was at my house said that SBC is stalling on extending modern switches out to more rural areas because when they upgrade their equipment to a certain point they have to open it up to competing local phone companies, but if they keep it old and cripled then they keep their monopoly. Sounds about right.

For TV that's not a problem as we have DirecTV and now I'll never go back to cable.

But for internet? Because of the state of the wires, the fastest dial-up I can get at my house is 28.8. I did that for awhile until I finally tore my hear out with frustration. To surf the web I would right-click and open about 40 web pages in separate windows then go make breakfast and shower before coming back to the computer to read them when they were finally loaded.

Then I finally got an ISDN line from SBC. ISDN is older digital technology that uses regular phone lines for a 2-channel digital signal at 56k each so you end up with about a 110k connection. But the SBC install fee to connect at my house was $250 and I had to pay SBC a $62/month ISDN fee. On top of that I still had to find a dial-up service provider that would take dual-dial-up ISDN connections and that cost an additional $30/month. And I had to buy my own ISDN router on ebay for $130. So for an initial investment of $370 and a monthly fee of $92 I had reliable internet at twice the speed of 56.6 modem.

Then my ISP went out of business and there were no others in the Waco area that would do the ISDN connection so I was left with nothing. Luckily in the past year a wireless broadband provider has come into this area. A small local company that is putting transmitters on local cell phone and radio towers. So I switched and for a $199 install and $49/mo I finally have true broadband in my house via a wireless antenna on my roof.

The only other options for someone in my position is satellite but if you want to read horror stories, go to the satellite internet forums and read the horror stories about satellite internet.

When we finally move and I can get DSL for $29/mo I'll probably pee my pants.

Posted by: Kent on May 4, 2005 9:54 AM