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New Orleans Tech Chief Vows WiFi Net Here to Stay 213

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the take-a-stand dept.
breckinshire writes "After Hurricane Katrina last year, New Orleans set up a city-wide wireless network to encourage businesses to return and assist in recovery. The New Orleans technology chief recently said that he intends to make the network permanent, in spite of state law and the disapproval of telecoms."
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New Orleans Tech Chief Vows WiFi Net Here to Stay

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  • by Fulcrum of Evil (560260) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:06PM (#15061446)

    But I just gotta know - is this a Chocolate Wifi network?

  • Buoys? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:08PM (#15061458)
    Will they place the transmitters on buoys?
  • Opportunity Knocking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wiz31337 (154231) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:11PM (#15061487)
    I take issue with the telecom companies trying to regulate what city government can and cannot do with their donated equipment. However, if the city shuts down their equipment and lets it sit inactive until another emergency the telecom companies do not have a problem with this.

    What the city should propose to do is use the current emergency services systems (police, fire, etc.) in parallel with the wireless equipment. This would provide a variety of systems to use if one fails in the event of another hurricane. A majority if not all the equipment came from Cisco, [cisco.com] which provides a software solution called LMR Over IP. [cisco.com] This would ensure a highly redundant solution, just incase another event like hurricane Katrina happens again. This is a far better solution than having equipment sitting there useless, or removing it entirely.
    • What happens when the next hurricane comes through and all the hardware "mounted on streetlights" gets blown away?
      • Being a "mesh network" you hope the hurricane misses a couple of streetlights, and you still a partially working network.

        Afterall, that's why DARPA came up with the idea for the Internet in the first place: If one communication link gets taken out, there are still other links to communicate with.
        • I see what you're saying, but "optimisim" and "New Orleans" aren't really being used in the same sentence anymore. It's a good idea though, here's to hoping.
        • Afterall, that's why DARPA came up with the idea for the Internet in the first place: If one communication link gets taken out, there are still other links to communicate with.

          No, and it wasn't designed to survive a nuclear war either.

          The ARPANET was designed to allow researchers to communicate and share resources.

    • Yeah that's fuckedup, but that's capitalism. THe other action phrase I saw was "..poured money into legislative bills.."
  • by postbigbang (761081) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:12PM (#15061493)
    And said that it's a lifeblood for city residents. He also said that Bell South, once he intimated that this might be done, immediately slowed down on committments they'd made to the City to get restoration done.

    In a way, it's an 'up-the-telcos' soft of move. And who can blame him?

    I'm for the citizens of NO, not incumbent telcos with rotten attitudes. Maybe /.ers should start a movement to create an alternate net down there that can't be touched by the law. Not renegade, rather to aid the people in NO that use the city WiFi as a lifeline.
    • And let's face it...this is NOT a fast connection!! The cable and DSL options are still out there available for connectivity, and I'd venture to guess they'll still have a great deal of business!

      When I move back...I'll go back to my Cox business connection. I have servers to run, etc...and need that extra bandwidth!

    • At which he gave a wonderful answer to an audience question:

      Q: (to the effect of)How would you respond to telco attempts to outlaw muni WiFi networks?
      A: "Physically"
    • I'm for the citizens of NO, not incumbent telcos with rotten attitudes.

      I dunno. I can kinda see the telco's point of view.

      City, through some combination of incompetence, corruption, and bad luck, gets hit with a major disaster.

      Telcos, in a fit of generosity (no doubt inspired by the PR value of "giving something back to the community"), donate lots of WiFi gear to the city to assist in the rebuilding efforts by setting up a temporary ad-hoc network.

      City then announces that they plan on using the donated gea
      • I don't know that the telcos donated the equipment. I work for an outsourcing company that has a NO contract, and we donated stuff. Our corporate guys are particularly proud of the fact that our NOC kept running during the whole disaster, and we got payroll out on schedule.

        I don't know who donated the wireless mesh network - but I doubt it was the telcos.

        Heck, the place I work for is being sold a new VOIP system by the monster phone company, and they are going to hook the various sites up via T-1 lines ..

  • My Irony Asplode (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tackhead (54550) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:13PM (#15061502)
    > "We believe the Fair Competition Act was established to provide safeguards for private industry," Grabert said. "Efforts to repeal it do raise concerns."

    Even as a free-market kind of guy, the doublespeak here really makes my head spin. In the name of fair competition... we have to eliminate anything that might outcompete with $5.99/minute pay-card-based WiFi providers.

    Then again, welcome to Newspeak verb conjugation 101:

    I am erotic. You are kinky. They are perverts.
    We protect. Our allies enforce. Our enemies oppress.
    Government appropriates. Telecoms lobby. WiFi users steal.

    • by conJunk (779958) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:22PM (#15061563)
      "We believe the Fair Competition Act was established to provide safeguards for private industry," Grabert said. "Efforts to repeal it do raise concerns."
      Even as a free-market kind of guy, the doublespeak here really makes my head spin. In the name of fair competition... we have to eliminate anything that might outcompete with $5.99/minute pay-card-based WiFi providers.

      nail.head, meet hammer.

      that's pretty much it right there. Meffert seems to be operating on the following assumptions:

      1- if private industry isn't priding this service, the government should
      2- wifi is important for the rebuilding of the city's economy
      3- as for how #2 above should be best implemented, see number one

      at the end of the day, anyone who disagrees with this guy is trying to line their own pockets, and telling people who've been pretty roundly screwed over that they should just bend over and grin

      this might be the first reasonable statement i've heard from a public official in years

      • ROTFLMAO..a NOLA politician who DOESN'T line his/her own pockets would be a first. What this person means is I want to screw them over in the future by raising taxes and or fees to pay for the Free Wi-Fi service. I want to campaign and get money under the table on the "Free Wi-Fi For Everyone" platform. I want to control who can access the network, and where the nodes are installed (someone gets paid to put up the network right? Why not his company or his buddies company?) There will be Wi-Fi Boards just li
    • Government appropriates. Telecoms lobby. WiFi users steal

      Except for one thing. Guess who provides the fiber backbone that those wireless routers attach too?

      Think "Telcom"

      Unless your paying for the bandwidth, the users shouldn't bitch when the access becomes saturated because the telcos arn't getting their cut of profit for the fiber THEY layed.
      • Re:My Irony Asplode (Score:5, Informative)

        by penix1 (722987) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @06:53PM (#15062083) Homepage
        "Unless your paying for the bandwidth, the users shouldn't bitch when the access becomes saturated because the telcos arn't getting their cut of profit for the fiber THEY layed."

        You hear this argument all over the place. I think it is time to debunk it. The telcos may have (and I emphasize MAY) laid them to begin with but in this case it is federal dollars paying for replacement of ALL the infrastructure (including the telco lines). The program responsible for it in FEMA is called Infrastructure (commonly called "Public Assistance"). In a normal disaster the federal split is 75% federal and 25% state. In a catastrophic disaster that drops to 90% fed 10% state. In the case of Katrina even that has been waived with the federal paying 100%.

        PA pays for doing public buildings, public services such as power & communications, roads, water and waste water treatment, and debris removal. There are whole categories that they cover. It isn't the telcos laying anything in New Orleans AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE so please stop spreading this little white lie.

        B.

        DISCLAIMER: I was previously employed by FEMA but now work for my State doing the same thing.
        • Re:My Irony Asplode (Score:2, Interesting)

          by DigiShaman (671371)
          If that's the case, then why isn't the local state government running the telco industry? I'm not in favor of this, but that would be the next logical step...would it not?
          • If that's the case, then why isn't the local state government running the telco industry? I'm not in favor of this, but that would be the next logical step...would it not?

            Why not federal? I am completely in favor of governments providing these types of services. In the "information age", communications are as necessary for commerce as is transportation. I see this infrastructure in the same light as the public highway system. Imagine what that would be if it were run by private industry. The free ma

            • Re:My Irony Asplode (Score:2, Informative)

              by zenhkim (962487)
              >I see this infrastructure in the same light as the public highway system. Imagine what that would be if it were run by private industry.

              I don't have to imagine it -- I've seen it. Back in the 90s the Orange County Board of Directors approved of a plan to build a toll road that cuts through San Joaquin Hills, then a pristine California wilderness area. The toll road was touted as a completely privatized, non-tax funded roadway that would quickly pay for itself and become a model for similar toll roads
          • "If that's the case, then why isn't the local state government running the telco industry? I'm not in favor of this, but that would be the next logical step...would it not?"

            They do. It is call laws and regulations supposedly run by the FCC. The problem with the FCC though is it is a political agency comprised of industry stooges. The revolving door between the FCC and the industry they are supposed to regulate is appalling.

            B.
    • Ain't really got anything to do with a free market. We are talking about the economic system of Corporate Communism. The cradle to grave protection of the Large Corporation by the State. Those ISP's have no use for a free market.
    • Except that a municipal wifi cloud isn't free competition, because the city doesn't have to make a profit on it. Indeed, their price structure is set by political concerns, so they're likely to undercut anybody who has to make a profit — effectively locking them out.

      That being said, I'm all in favor of projects like this. If a service is important enough, government should go ahead and provide it, not wait for somebody to figure out a way to make a profit selling this.

      I even agree that the telecom

      • "Except that a municipal wifi cloud isn't free competition, because the city doesn't have to make a profit on it. Indeed, their price structure is set by political concerns, so they're likely to undercut anybody who has to make a profit effectively locking them out."

        I disagree with this premise. You (theoretically) have an industry that is regulated already with no ill effects to them.

        Right now the industry as a whole is failing in providing broadband (they are holding hearings today and tomorrow about thi
        • OK dude, go back and read beyond the first sentence.
          • Hey, at least I gave you karma...

            I still disagree with the premise that government sponsored infrastructure will undercut private. The forces that control public offerings (political as you say) can be influenced either way and more often than not it is in the direction of the private concern. After all, private companies means jobs and less public money spent on this type of thing.

            B.
            • You're right, the balance of influence tends to tip in favor of private enterprise. But we're not talking about whether government tends to undercut private business, we're talking about whether it can. And it certainly can, and does. The NO municipal WiFi cloud will certainly take customers away from private providers.

              But maintaining a free market isn't the only priority here. Having affordable internet access for everybody is an important social concern. (Or, in the case of New Orleans, any internet acc

  • Law (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gid13 (620803) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:13PM (#15061506)
    One wonders how a law like that would get passed in the first place. Could it perhaps be campaign contributions by telcos?
    • Re:Law (Score:5, Informative)

      by AngryNick (891056) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @06:21PM (#15061888) Homepage Journal
      CIO magazine just ran a decent article [cio.com] on the fight...

      FTFLA:
      A growing number of cities and towns want to develop their own public Wi-Fi networks. But they face stiff opposition from telecom and cable providers.

      You will find that there are several state laws [cio.com] on the books as well as US House [loc.gov] and Senate bills [loc.gov] pending that would prohibit or limit a city's ability to provide WiFi services. To make things fun, there is a competing bill [loc.gov] in the Senate that would make it illegal to make it illegal to make a law that would prohibit cities from offering services (!!=1).

      Our political system amazes me...if we could only harness all that wasted energy.

      • Our political system amazes me...if we could only harness all that wasted energy.

        From what I understand, they haven't had to turn the furnaces on in Washington D.C. for years, since Congress provides plenty of forced-air heating.
  • by NitroWolf (72977) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:14PM (#15061507)
    If and when this does go to legal grounds, it will most likely be a huge landmark case that could open the floodgates for other cities to establish a municiple wireless system.

    If it's handled improperly, and gets shut down, it will be a serious blow to any in roads already established toward providing free, community wireless projects. This would be a terrible crime, and once again, a reason the US would fall further behind in the broadband arena. The cable companies and Bell's already have an effective monopoly over much of the US, simply because they are the only carrier/provider in the area offering Broadband, and you simply can't go to someone else for that. Wireless takes away this monopoly, and boy are they pissed.

    • If and when this does go to legal grounds, it will most likely be a huge landmark case that could open the floodgates for other cities to establish a municiple wireless system.

      I'm guessing that's not going to be the case. Note that this law is not a constraint on corporations or private citizens; it is a constraint on a political subdivision (New Orleans) by a sovereign state (Loisiana). The States have almost unlimited authority to constrain what their political subdivisions are allowed to do, far more a
    • If it's handled improperly, and gets shut down, it will be a serious blow to any in roads already established toward providing free, community wireless projects.

      You shouldn't let fear of precedent prevent you from fighting for what's right.

  • Old Lesson (Score:3, Insightful)

    by abb3w (696381) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:16PM (#15061522) Journal
    If you take out most of the urban infrastructure, it's an opportunity for competiting forms of infrastructure to move in, and potentially demonstrate superiority, just like any other hole in any other ecology.

    Not that superior quality necessarily protects against superior lobbying...

  • Vonage should be flooding New Orleans (pun intended) with advertising! Imagine having free internet PLUS vonage! My monthly bills would go down considerably.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:22PM (#15061558) Journal
    Politics and business have never mixed any better than say... ummm gasoline and matches... no matter how they mix, somebody is getting burned, and its usually not the guy with the matches.

    The trouble here is not that a city government can operate a WiFi or telecommunications network, but that if they did, it would remove the stranglehold that the telecoms companies have over the consumers. That is what is really at stake. Imagine what would happen if we all opened up our APs and started running large mesh networks over telecom company pipes? If you think NO is a problem, there would be calls for federally mandated closure of unsecured wireless APs.

    Personally, I thought this is what the free market was supposed to be all about... competition to drive innovation and self-regulate cost structures. Of course there is always that unfair competitive practices thing, but how is making it illegal for anyone to compete 'fair competition' ????

    I'm willing to bet that an 'open source' style mesh network can run for quite an extended period of time on simply the money that has been spent lobbying to keep NO from running a metro WiFi network. Perhaps its time to review, in public forums, the costs incurred by metropolitan NO on behalf of telecom companies so they can provide services? Licenses for towers and transmitters are not free, nor are they given away by divine right of the telecom companies. Tit for tat? Maybe its time?
    • Just wondering what the bandwidth characteristics and architecture for such an infrastructure would be? We can all set up APs and from what little I know forwarding packets to neighbouring packets is a no brainer but wouldnt it be horrendously slow beyond the last mile itself? (Limited bandwidth (total pipe size of 54 mbps ..realistically 20 mbps) and really bad latency. Is there a project where this has been attempted at relatively large scales, what performance did they achieve. Anyone with any info about
  • by lancejjj (924211) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:22PM (#15061559) Homepage
    It is truly scary that government officials believe that they are above the law. Laws are passed for a reason - for good or for bad, and we have to accept the law as it is, or collectively agree to change the law.

    Sadly, in this day and age, many laws are being passed that are just plain stupid. However, even stupid laws are laws, and it takes a majority of supporters to repeal them.

    Instead, it has been acceptable for a minority to willingly break the law, despite the fact that the laws are not going to be repealed. This happens over and over again, and sadly, government procecutors ignore their oaths and duties and allow this criminal activity to continue. Shame on them for their absolute incompetence and failure.

    I like the idea of letting New Orleans keep their WIFI. I'm in no position to say that it's a bad thing. But evidently a majority of those in honestly elected office think it is a bad thing and passed a law to prevent it, and so being in a democracy, I have to accept that. That's the deal.

    I also think the telecoms are fucked in the head. But that doesn't change the law.

    • by santiago (42242) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:45PM (#15061687) Homepage
      On the contrary, what is legal and what is moral are often in conflict. If enough people feel that a law is wrong, breaking it repeatedly is an excellent method of making everyone else realize that the law should be changed. Many of the great leaders and heroes of our history engaged in civil disobedience as a means to change society. The right to unionize, universal adult suffrage, an end to racial discrimination laws, the withdrawal of colonial governments from occupied nations--refusing to follow bad laws played a key role in all of these.
      • Not to mention that there are oodles of laws that are simply not enforced.

        If the police &/or other enforcement agencies had to go around enforcing every single law on the books, the government would effectively grind to a halt.
    • Didn't we hear this same argument about 140 years ago?

      It is truly scary that government officials like president Lincoln believe that they are above the law. Laws are passed for a reason - for good or for bad, and we have to accept the law as it is, or collectively agree to change the law. Sadly, in this day and age, many laws are being passed that are just plain stupid. However, even stupid laws are laws, and it takes a majority of supporters to repeal them. Instead, it has been acceptable for a minori

      • ANd again 50 years ago- I bet the OP thinks that separate but equal schools are ok, and that Rosa Parks should have shut up and sat in the back of the bus.
    • Actually, non violent civil disobedience of bad laws is one of the most respected and useful ways to change bad laws.
      If the police will refuse to enforce this by not arresting the mayor, that will be even better.
      • Civil disobedience is a two way street. You must be willingto sacrifice your freedom to bring awareness to the law which you are protesting. If you are unwilling to go to jail then you are not being civilly disobedient, you are simply breaking the law.
      • >If the police will refuse to enforce this by not arresting the mayor, that will be even better.

        As Gandhi [mkgandhi.org] & MLK [nobelprize.org] demonstrated, it's even better if the police do enforce the law. Going to jail over a stupid, stupid law is a great way of saying "It's a stupid, stupid law" in a way that (a) attracts attention, (b) shows that you really mean it, and (c) gets the law repealed.

        Not that I think the mayor's going to the pokey over wi-fi; I'm just saying that it's best if one wishes to break a law, that o


    • "I am above the law!"

      Squeak of hair goo as bald spot gets recovered.

      But really. I mean New Orleans is not known to be the most uncorrupt place in the planet, although I hear its _much_ better than it used to be. But between this guy, and the Minnesota governor or whoever that was telling the state's employees to "break the law" and buy prescriptions from Canada, is a little strange to me.

      Sure, we realize that 80-90% of what they do is just for fun and games, and of course PROFIT! But to me publicly sayin
    • by vertinox (846076) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @06:36PM (#15061975)
      It is truly scary that government officials believe that they are above the law. Laws are passed for a reason - for good or for bad, and we have to accept the law as it is, or collectively agree to change the law.

      Dear American Revolutionaries,

      It dumbfounds me to no extent why you are not obeying our laws like civilized people. For good or for bad, you must accept the authority of the British Crown and English Parliament. Perhaps you can collectively agree to petition us and we might change the law... If we feel like it.

      Yours Truly,

      King George
    • No, a majority of those in office were 'convinced' by the major telco's and cableco's (much of the convincing surely came in the form of campaign funds), that it was a bad thing and that a law prohibiting it was a good idea. There is a difference.
  • by radiotyler (819474) <tyler @ d a ppergeek.com> on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @05:27PM (#15061582) Homepage
    This makes me wonder how upset the Telcos & Cable providers were when Libraries (St. Louis, specifically) first brought high-speed Internet to everyone living in the city / county? To me at least, it really seems like the same thing: local government providing a service with tax money for everyone. I know why they're pissed about it: they think they're going to lose exactly one shitload of money because people can use the free Internet vs. cable / dsl at home and businesses. I for one don't really feel sorry for these companies missing out on getting some bucks from the locals. Offer a competitive service at a competitive price and people will go back to personal broadband solutions for their home.

    The hardcore foil-hatters, gamers, file-sharing, and business communities will pay for their connection just because they don't want to touch the gov't tainted systems, want faster ping times, or a bigger pipe to push their data out. I mean, it's only 512 kbps and they're talking about dropping it to 128 kbps. I highly doubt (say, I'm 99% sure) using "free Wi-Fi" is a serious solution for most businesses and a lot of home users in the long run.

    So in short, suck it up you penny-pinching bastards. There's no "free Wi-Fi" where I live, so you're still getting my check. Sheesh.
    • But you have to understand, the telecos rely on these "casual" users that pay 50 bucks a month to download their email really fast.

      If the teleco network only has heavy users, the price goes up because they oversell, counting on these users to even it out.
      • Bah, that's all fine and dandy, but in a land with little to no infrastructure rebuilt as yet (*ahem* telcos?) - and donated equipment the telcos really don't have a choice besides acceptance, or going to court complaining that there is unfair competition between a local gov't providing access to people that THE TELCOS CURRENTLY CAN'T SUPPORT. There is strictly no motivation here besides money on the part of the telcos. It's unfortunate and sad to see this happening.
  • It seems to me (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bhalter80 (916317)
    It seems to me that this is the free market at work and I'll explain why:

    We have a service that is sought after by the residents and business people of NO , and we have a provider who is willing to distribute it at a given price. Now granted that price is free and it was at roughly 0 cost to them as the equipment was donated but none the less they are providing a service that the people are after at a price the people like.

    Here comes Bell South, etc... who used to have a bunch of customers in NO before a
  • Land Value Tax (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Baldrson (78598) * on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @06:56PM (#15062103) Homepage Journal
    If they're serious about this they should offer up telephone polls and spectrum for 3 year leases to the highest bidder -- and stay the hell out of the way.

    They'd get revenue rather than spending revenue and the town would be blanketed with wireless coverage before they could begin to issue their RFQ's to their bribers.

  • Step Two (Score:2, Funny)

    by mrshoe (697123)

    After making the wifi network permanent they will start work on making the levees permanent.

    It's good to see they have their priorities straight.

  • by Burdell (228580) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @07:07PM (#15062181)
    Why do people think that it is great to "compete" with a government-granted monopoly (telcos) with a government-built monopoly? How do you think the telcos got to the level they are at now? A private company (e.g. a real ISP) has enough problems trying to compete with the telcos. There's no way they can compete with taxpayer-funded networks as well.
    • If the citizens get better service and lower prices in the end, who cares about competition?
      • Because once you kill off competition, it is very difficult (and often essentially impossible) to re-establish it. That means once the government controls the public Internet access, they can do anything: intentional things like monitor and/or limit access to certain sites ("think of the children") and apathetic things like letting quality of service go down over time.
    • A wireless internet available everywhere would make it easier to do things like rebuilding and planning because communication is the key to getting things done.

      The proper goal for this would be for there to be some access everywhere, but if you want to be downloading movies in realtime, you have to talk to a higher bandwidth provider.

      When planning resources like this you have to ask: How many jobs will the plan create vs. leaving things alone? i.e. If the goverment stays out and lets private enter
  • According to the official EarthLink blog (http://blogs.earthlink.net/2006/03/saving_wifi_in _new_orleans.php [earthlink.net]) New Orleans has approached EarthLink about taking over the WiFi network there. Given that EarthLink is building out the networks in Philly and Anaheim as well this might be the solution to the problem. If a private company runs things the telcos can't complain.
  • Public Utility (Score:2, Insightful)

    by superkpt (958938)
    As long as getting access to the 'net is NOT considered a public right (such as electricity, water, sewage removal, etc.), the private telecoms will attempt to capitalize.

    Societally, this poses an issue. To be a public utility, everyone must NEED the Internet. If this is so, then many of the 'brick-and-mortar' locations we go to must be replaced with more efficient 'online' locations. This is tricky. As yet, products and services offered online are offered offline. If a basic service (such as bankin
  • Why doesn't he just turn over the network to a non-profit? Then, it's no longer a city run network, but can remain free as long as it gets funding somehow. Donations from the city? :)
  • it's a guerilla movement, and unless they embrace it and push it like they pushed ATM, frame, DSL, it's going to eat them up faster than cable and cellphones.

    rollout costs of wi-fi are basically nothing for a sorta-system, and twice that for a 22-1/2 by 6 system... if you're charging five bucks or fifteen bucks a month for the access code, you aren't going to promise 24x7.

    it will cost like any other infrastructure if you're going to roll out an FCC-acceptable carrier-class system. but with VoIP in the USB

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