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Wireless Networking Government IT Hardware Politics

Chicago Cancels Municipal Wi-Fi Plan 93

thatshortkid writes "The Chicago Tribune is reporting that a proposed plan for municipal wi-fi in Chicago has fallen apart. The story cites contract disputes and the falling price of residential broadband as reasons for the talks collapsing. 'Chicago officials had intended that the city would offer infrastructure, but no cash, to a carrier that would use its own funds to build the network here. EarthLink and AT&T Inc. submitted proposals to the city, but after months of negotiations the parties were unable to reach agreement. The companies sought a commitment from Chicago to be an "anchor tenant," agreeing to pay to use the Wi-Fi network to support city services, but the city declined ... Even if Chicago declines to back a municipal wireless network, city residents soon will gain more Internet connection options. Sprint Nextel Corp. is building a wireless WiMax network here that is due to offer service next spring.'"
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Chicago Cancels Municipal Wi-Fi Plan

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  • It's Like Water (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:13AM (#20398003) Journal
    So I'm going to try & compare this to water to citizens, but I recognize it's not the greatest comparison--people need water to survive, most people don't need wi-fi to survive, etc.

    Back in the day, when a town was being settled, they would have a well. I think it still works this way in most rural parts of third world countries. You thirsty? Walk down to the well & pull up a bucket.

    What did you pay for that facility? Probably very little--if anything at all. Someone fronted the stone and labor to drill the well the whole bucket rope system was a one time cost.

    Years later, people got sick of this ... why? The water wasn't the greatest quality, you had to actively go to the well, it might be limited during dry spells, someone devious could poison the water, etc. So we now pay the city to ensure that water is delivered us via a system of tubes and that it is potable.

    The attempt for AT&T or Earthlink to blanket wi-fi is kind of like the last step in this equation. Except there currently are no town wells (with the exception of some establishments implementing free wi-fi). I think we need a 'town well' style implementation before we advance to full blown municipal need. There's plenty of people out there right now getting by just fine with no wi-fi, they don't know why they should pay $2.87 a month (that's just a guess, by the way) in taxes for something they don't think they need. Likewise, there were probably settlers drinking from streams that didn't think an intricate pipeline of water to every home was necessary.

    So what's the solution here?

    Enter mesh networks [wikipedia.org], something similar to how the OLPC is supposed to function. I submitted a story a while ago about Meraki [slashdot.org], a startup that is threatening Google's push to blanket San Francisco in wi-fi. They are basically giving out solar powered routers for people to mount in their homes that will become part of a mesh network.

    It's kind of like the town well approach: low start up initial cost that someone pays, at first it will be limited and a bit cumbersome, it will probably be very vulnerable to attacks, the people that don't think they need it will still get some low quality service for free, etc.

    Will city wide mesh networks be the final answer & solution to the municipal wi-fi demand? I don't know. I would doubt it since I wouldn't see it working in the countryside very well and so I think the ultimate municipal wi-fi will indeed be local government run and include massive coverage via some sort of technology I don't know enough about.

    I think it's necessary to have this intermediate stage because it will give businesses, people & institutions the power to experiment with the unlimited possibilities that a city WAN would provide. I think wi-fi as a municipal service is a great idea for everywhere but I acknowledge that I make a lot more than the average citizen of the world.

    If I were Chicago or a large city government, I would be seeking the attempts of companies like Meraki that want to build mesh networks and look at ad hoc networks as a temporary or starting solution. They may not be the best but it something to experiment with and learn from before you implement the final solution.
  • by DogDude (805747) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:31AM (#20398273) Homepage
    You say that "most people don't need wi-fi to survive". Actually, I'd say that nobody needs wi-fi to survive. In fact, wi-fi is really useless for anything important. There's simply no reason that our government should get into the business of becoming ISP's.
  • Re:Falling Prices? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dsginter (104154) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @11:05AM (#20398759)
    Have you called them and asked? What was their response?

    I'm not a current customer (because I have no need for a land-line) so this complicates things a bit (needlessly) as I only get to speak with their sales department, who haven't been informed of any $10 DSL plans (huge surprise, since you can't even find it on their website).

    My goal is to use the land line as a free gateway to my area code for one of the distributed/free VoIP projects.
  • Disappointed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CompMD (522020) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @11:24AM (#20399119)
    As a Chicagoan (born and raised) I am deeply disappointed. Comcast rapes its customers there for mediocre (at best) service, and they are the biggest game in town.

    I don't live there any more, I live far, far away in a smaller city in Kansas. We have our own problems, just like any other city, but with the cooperative efforts of our city commission and a non-profit organization, we figured out how to make a successful, inexpensive, functional, municipal wireless ISP [lawrencefreenet.org] using a mesh network that covers the entire city.

    Why can't anyone else?

  • by athloi (1075845) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @11:54AM (#20399589) Homepage Journal
    http://blogs.chron.com/techblog/archives/2007/08/t he_earthlink_wifi_saga_waiting_for_the_other.html [chron.com] Interesting commentary from Houston Chronicle technology writer Dwight Silverman. His suggestion is to socialize municipal Wi-Fi and have the city run it.
  • by drewzhrodague (606182) <(ten.eugadorhz) (ta) (werd)> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @11:56AM (#20399619) Homepage Journal
    Pittsburgh failed to create a WiFi network in '02 a while back. It cost a bunch of money for almost nothing done. Actually, some lady had her picture in the paper, and there was some hooplah for a day or two.

    Then they hired some out-of-state company to install a little hotzone downtown, with two-hours of free access. This was after the other local players tried to bring some sense to whichever committee that was.

    In fact, all of the local WiFi businesses in Pittsburgh have all left the city for the west coast, and other cities -- because they can't get any traction, or generate any local business.

    Then this guy [shadysidewifi.com] gets a bug up his ass, and starts installing Meraki boxes in his neighborhood. Didn't cost a fortune, didn't take forever, and he didn't have any help. Funny how one man with some money and initiative, can outperform a corporation funded with millions of dollars. Shadysidewifi.com [shadysidewifi.com]

  • The other way around (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mapkinase (958129) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @12:21PM (#20399995) Homepage Journal

    and the falling price of residential broadband as reasons for the talks collapsing

    Price is falling BECAUSE of the talks as one of the reasons.

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