Muni Wi-Fi spirals downward

In 2006, as we first started educating people about the merits of M2Z’s plan to build a nationwide, free, wireless broadband network, many skeptics suggested that the broad deployment of municipal Wi-Fi systems would reduce the appeal of M2Z.

To the contrary, we suggested that muni Wi-Fi projects would only work in limited circumstances and that the vast majority of American cities would not have the technical, financial, and human resources to deploy, maintain, and upgrade such projects — so M2Z could be a readily available nationwide alternative.

Today, the hype is clearly gone from municipal Wi-Fi projects. Anyone watching the headlines over the past couple months will notice a pattern — plans for large ambitious projects to cover a city in Wi-Fi are stalling or being shelved. The concept that an open, unlicensed ecosystem with no financial champions or sustainable business model could somehow be converted into a city-wide (often free) and easily accessible service is flawed. The headlines and reports in the press speak to the problems:

Cleveland rethinks citywide Wi-Fi (Nov 7: MuniWireless)

Cleveland, Ohio, Mayor Frank Jackson has announced the city will reject bids requiring anchor tenancy and focus, instead, on a “phased approach” to deployment.

Cleveland is the latest in a string of cities that have balked at making anchor tenant commitments. Anchorage, Alaska, Toledo, Ohio, Portland, Oregon, and Corona, Calfornia have had similar reservations.

Comment: “Anchor tenancy”ensures that someone pays for continued use of some part of the network, thus providing investors with incentive to build the network.

Reality check finds Wi-Fi city is full of holes (Nov 5: Sacramento Bee)

Sacramento’s effort, like many around the nation, is struggling for financing, as The Bee reported last month. But even in Mountain View, where technology leader and Nasdaq fat cat Google has built a system to blanket the city with Wi-Fi coverage, the network rarely penetrates walls.

“It will cost a lot more than most cities had planned to build a network that provides robust, consistent indoor coverage,” added Glenn Fleischman, editor of Wi-Fi Networking News.

Plano scaling back plans for free wireless Internet (Nov 3: Dallas Morning News)

Stoked earlier this decade by the prospect of free Internet at little expense, the dream of installing citywide Wi-Fi here and elsewhere has collided with high installation costs and other market realities.

Those dynamics have forced local governments in North Texas and beyond to take a hard look at their efforts and have dispelled assumptions that such projects come easy or free.

On a separate front, telecommunications firms have lobbied against free citywide coverage in an effort to protect their market shares.

A proposal put before the Legislature in 2005 would have included Wi-Fi in an existing statute that prohibits municipalities from offering certain telecom services. That bill died in committee.

Comment: Interesting to note that the telecommunications firms are working to lobby against the competition.

Vindu’s View: Wireless Silicon Valley getting little support (Nov 4: San Jose Mercury News)

The fate of Silicon Valley’s ambitious but troubled project to blanket the community with wireless Internet services now rests on a single question: Does anyone believe in the vision enough to invest $500,000 for two pilot sites that would show us what the network can do?

But government officials – wisely – aren’t going to pledge taxpayer dollars until they see some proof that the project is more than just a dream conjured up by the optimists at Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, the public-private group that is spearheading the project.

Comment: This is certainly one of the more ambitious projects falling by the wayside and no doubt ironic that it’s happening in the heart of one of the innovation and venture capital centers of the country – Silicon Valley.

Rush for municipal Wi-Fi runs out of steam (Oct 29: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

So is muni Wi-Fi dead? Not yet. But “there’s been a reality check,” said Sally Cohen, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. “And it all stems around, ‘What’s the business model, and who’s going to pay for it?’ “

AT&T Scales Back St. Louis Wi-Fi Plan (Oct 27: Associated Press)

AT&T Inc. has scaled back its plan to blanket the city’s 62 square miles with Wi-Fi signals, the wireless Internet service now found in airports and coffee shops.

Instead, AT&T said Friday it will build a Wi-Fi pilot project in the downtown core and expects to have it in service early next year.

“It’s a setback,” said John Sondag, vice president of external affairs for AT&T Missouri. “We’re disappointed. But we will still learn something.”

S.F. Wi-Fi plans lost in a fog (Oct 24: RCR Wireless News)

After more than two years, a plan to blanket San Francisco with seamless wireless Internet access at no cost to consumers is back where it started. All that stands in the wake of the failed citywide Wi-Fi effort now is a mountain of paperwork.

Once considered by many cities and towns to be the roadmap to offer high-speed Internet access for all, wide-spread use of the unlicensed technology is now less certain.

San Francisco’s deal was already largely considered dead in late August when EarthLink Inc. rescinded its proposal to cover the estimated $14 million to $17 million cost of building the citywide Wi-Fi network.

EarthLink, which was planning to team up with Google for the municipal Wi-Fi network in San Francisco, fired 900 employees following the news, including Don Berryman, the executive who led the company’s municipal Wi-Fi division. It closed offices in Orlando, Fla.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Harrisburg, Pa.; and San Francisco, and also said it will substantially reduce its presence in Pasadena, Calif., and Atlanta.


Celebrate Mediocrity?

A colleague sent me a PR Newswire release about a new study funded by the U.S. Department of Education under the auspices of a grant to the Ready to Learn Partnership (RTLP), which painted an upbeat picture on the state of technology adoption by lower income households. The headline read:

“New Study Funded by U.S. Department of Education Shows Digital Divide Is No Longer as Prevalent”

And the body of the release stated:

“This new research suggests that given the proliferation of media across the socioeconomic spectrum, although significant differences do exist by income level, a stark digital divide no longer captures the relationship between income and technology ownership and that technology is integrated into children’s lives, regardless of their families’ income.”

So, the positive news is that”significant” differences do exist by income level but they are no longer “stark.” How comforting.

The actual report had this to say in the summary section:

“Regardless of how one assesses the current state, it is clear that, given the proliferation and increased affordability of media technologies,
the metaphor of the “digital divide” no longer adequately characterizes the complex relationship between income and ownership of media technology. The current state is perhaps best described as a “digital continuum.”

I took a look at the supporting stats in the study and it showed clearly that in households earning $75,000 per year, 97% have a computer in contrast to 37% in households earning less than $25,000 per year. That’s a 60% spread.

The study also showed that household internet access connection differed by type (dial-up vs broadband).

For those of us tracking broadband deployment, we can easily extrapolate these numbers to see that overall, 16% of lower income (<$25k/annum) households have broadband access in contrast to 77% in higher income (>%75k/annum) households. That’s a 61% spread.

So maybe that’s not “stark.” But it certainly seems severe and for children living on the wrong side of that 60% or 61% spread, it certainly seems unfair.

But mostly it’s tragic because it’s totally unnecessary. The technology, capital, talent and experience necessary to help make that gap a historical footnote is poised and ready to act — the only missing ingredient is a tiny bit of cooperation from our government.

Walt Mossberg likens big cellphone carriers to “Soviet ministries”

Walter Mossberg, who co-produces and co-hosts D: All Things Digital, a major high-tech and media conference and who also writes and edits for the Wall Street Journal recently wrote a damning column (October 22) in the WSJ which points out how government and big cellphone carriers stifle innovation at the expense of consumers.

You can read the article here:

or in the Wall Street Journal:

Some of his observations are real zingers:

“A shortsighted and often just plain stupid federal government has allowed itself to be bullied and fooled by a handful of big wireless phone operators for decades now. And the result has been a mobile phone system that is the direct opposite of the PC model. It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world, just as the cellphone is morphing into a powerful hand-held computer.”


And here’s another:

“That’s why I refer to the big cellphone carriers as the “Soviet ministries.” Like the old bureaucracies of communism, they sit athwart the market, breaking the link between the producers of goods and services and the people who use them.”

Mossberg concludes with an analogy to the wired phone network of the 70’s and states:

“I suspect that if the government, or some disruptive innovation, breaks the crippling power that the wireless carriers exert today, the free market will deliver a similar happy ending.”

We agree with Mossberg on this point. And if given the chance, M2Z would certainly like to help deliver a pro-consumer happy ending in wireless broadband.

75-yr-old vigilante hammers Comcast

Interesting article in the Washington Post about 75 year old Mona Shaw who – after being repeatedly mistreated – went to her local Comcast office and started whacking away with a hammer.

While we wouldn’t advocate violence or vigilantism, most everyone can sympathize with her emotions. To us, it’s further evidence that we need more competition and more providers in the marketplace. Increased competition brings down prices and increases service level quality – and consumers win.

The porn-at-work phenomenon

A recent USA Today report indicates that companies are growing increasingly concerned by the fact that wireless access to the Internet appears to be giving the porn-at-work phenomenon a boost.

You can read the story here:

Further, it appears that 65% of US Companies use software to block worker’s access to inappropriate websites. 16% of men and 8% of women admit to visiting porn sites while at work. Clearly, the network-level filter proposed by M2Z will not only benefit parents in letting their children safely surf the net but also benefit US Corporations who want to avoid lawsuits and other harassment risks faced by porn surfing employees.

Stitching up the Net and The Seattle Times

On October 14, Washington State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle; chair, Senate Labor, Commerce, Research & Development Committee; member, K-20 Education Network Board; Olympia) wrote a Letter to the Editor in the Seattle Times to comment on the Seattle Times Column written by M2Z’s CEO, John Muleta. The text to Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles’ Letter to the Editor is below …

A barrier to free flow

John Muleta identifies a real problem in “FCC fiddles while nation’s broadband falls behind” [guest commentary, Oct. 3]. As a country — and as a state — we cannot remain competitive without widespread access to broadband. Americans have every reason to be concerned about current service levels — especially to those Americans living in rural and low-income areas.

Muleta is correct that the ultimate determinations for increasing access to broadband is made by the FCC, but states can nudge the agency along by illustrating the scope of the problem.

This year, lawmakers included funding in the state budget to conduct a study to collect and interpret statistically reliable geographic, demographic and telecommunications information to identify any broadband-deployment disparities in the state.

In addition, the study will produce a profile of households and businesses, determining factors relating to those with no available broadband access, those with access but who haven’t purchased an option, and the purposes for which broadband is used by those who have access.

There is no question that the digital divide is a barrier to education and economic opportunities. We simply can’t afford such a divide, and lawmakers — both state and federal — must continue to make it harder for the FCC to sit idly by and allow this gap to persist.

— Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle; chair, Senate Labor, Commerce, Research & Development Committee; member, K-20 Education Network Board; Olympia

“Free” is good public policy

In the communications field, rarely does an idea come along with such obvious and compelling public interest benefits that when it finally does, it creates dissonance among decision makers that must act on it. M2Z is one such idea.

“It seems too good to be true. How in the world could anyone be against it?” are usually the first comments we hear when we explain the benefits of M2Z Networks to the public.

What is M2Z Networks?

Nearly 18 months ago, M2Z – a Silicon Valley company – requested permission from the FCC to blanket the US with a FREE, family-friendly wireless broadband service. The basic idea is to bring consumer-friendly wireless broadband connectivity to everyone – especially the 100+ million American adults and their children lacking broadband or any internet access today.

The Vision

The vision is simple. In the same way that advertising-supported, free, over-the-air television became ubiquitous (98% coverage) in the American household, M2Z wants to replicate this successful model for broadband. In the digital age, internet connectivity is a key factor of production with a tremendous impact on economic competitiveness. By making broadband internet access both ubiquitous and free, the ripple effect into other segments of the economy would be profoundly positive.

Public Policy Implications

For the FCC, the government agency which must rule on M2Z’s application, the public policy benefits of a service such as the one proposed by M2Z are not only direct and immediate but they are mandated under Section I (one) of the Communications Act, which requires the FCC to make communication services available to the public “without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.”

With the US rapidly falling behind other countries in broadband deployment, existing facilities are clearly inadequate and it’s impossible to argue that “free” is not a reasonable charge. In the same way that free access to Interstate highways spurred commerce in the last century, “free” for broadband is not only a pricing mechanism, but is good public policy to spur future commerce.