August 17, 2005
Why WiFi II

You may recall that I strongly opposed any attempt by the Lege in its multiple attempts to pass a telecom bill to ban cities from providing free wireless networking services. Why is this such a big deal? Andrew Rasiej provides a great answer.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by CBS local TV and was immediately asked the question "Why is Wi-Fi such a central part of your campaign for Public Advocate?" the reporter went further and asked "How is Wi-Fi going to make a difference in any New Yorker's life?"

I answered: Is giving public school students access to a 21st Century education about Wi-Fi? Is giving firefighters the ability to get blueprints of a burning building on their way to a fire about Wi-Fi? Is having EMT workers be able to get real time medical information about a patient at the scene of an accident about Wi-Fi?, Is being able to dial 911 on the subways so you can actually "Say something when you see something" about Wi-Fi? Is giving commuters the ability to know when their next train or bus is actually coming about Wi-Fi? Is being able to get timely information about cheaper prescription drugs, or school test scores, or job opportunities, or apartment rentals about Wi-Fi?

To me, Wi-Fi is just a metaphor, or shorthand, for connecting our selves and our infrastructure to the potential that the Internet offers. By recognizing it as such it will help us to solve our own problems in our own neighborhoods. It will allow us to demand that government be more open and accountable and when it fails to be so, it will give us a tool to punish the system for failing to listen to us. (And by the way, I think we can get ourselves a universal lowcost wireless system, operated by private companies using city infrastructure, covering all eight million New Yorkers for about $80 million--far less than the $350 million in tax dollars our Mayor wanted to shower on a football stadium in Manhattan, and far far less than the nonsensical $1 billion figure that conservative lawyer Bruce Fein used in a letter to the Times on Sunday.
More details here.)

Now that's forward thinking. Thanks to Greg for the heads-up.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 17, 2005 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack

HPD officials are talking about having to choose between the next phase of the Bromwich investigation and police cadet classes (never mind that the proposed classes for next year aren't nearly enough given the current manpower shortage).

"Free" wifi in Houston is less important than those (and other) priorities.

Posted by: kevin whited on August 17, 2005 1:44 PM

Yes, Kevin, I think we all agree that there are other priorities right now. All I was ever saying was that SBC's lobbyists should not have had the final say as to whether or not Houston some day got to make a choice about this.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 17, 2005 2:09 PM


Posted by: Greg Wythe on August 17, 2005 2:10 PM

Instead of spending homeland security $$ on less than protective causes, using it to make our city wireless in order for greater coordination between Police/Fire/EMS would actually save lives. Not to mention the educational, commercial, and greater government access/accountability such a system would offer.

Posted by: Red Dog on August 17, 2005 2:22 PM

Muni wifi introduces an element of competition into the scheme of things these old monopolists like SBC don't want.

Competition --- whether from a private company or a public wifi system --- forces these guys to behave like a business that has to keep its customers.

Arguments to outlaw muni wifi based on the silly idea that it's "government-sponsored competition" are just so much smoke.

Posted by: ttyler5 on August 17, 2005 3:56 PM


Good point. Got to give you credit when I agree.

Posted by: Red Dog on August 17, 2005 5:23 PM

Red Dog,

I'll one-up you on that, I'll give you credit, as I have Kuff, for being right, even when I don't agree! :^D :^D

Posted by: ttyler5 on August 18, 2005 3:36 AM

Poor munis can't get a break. When you raise the topic of free (or low-cost subsidized) wireless, you get hammered with the complaint that tax dollars shouldn't be spent this way. If, however, you put forward a proposal that instead makes money, then you get jumped on for unfairly competing with private enterprise.

The fact is, these arguments are all a diversion from the main point: increased broadband availability is good for communities. Which, I think, is the point of Charles' posting. A wireless network can be a valuable investment that pays off in a multitude of ways.

The further fact is that most of the muni implementations are public-private partnerships, which bring great benefits to the public while limiting the costs and risk to citizens.

The Houston parking meter wi-fi is a great example of how public wireless often happens. Often times these networks are justified by and deployed for public works or safety purposes. Then, once the infrastructure is in place, you can look at new and innovative ways for the citizens to gain additional benefits from their investment.

On other fronts, Philadelphia has announced that they will negotiate with Earthlink and HP for their city-wide network. And just this week, San Francisco has announced plans for a city-wide mesh. Exciting things are afoot.

Posted by: chip on August 18, 2005 1:35 PM

If you want to see this happen in Houston, lend a hand in NYC. That is, take some time and email or call your friends in the Big Apple and tell them about Rasiej's campaign. The primary is Sept. 13 and we can win this thing.

Micah Sifry
eCampaign Director
Advocates for Rasiej

Posted by: Micah Sifry on August 19, 2005 7:34 AM

Intel is doing a big study of muni wifi and Corpus is one of the cities it will include.

Link from Dwight Silverman's TechBlog

Posted by: ttyler5 on August 19, 2005 7:05 PM