Blogswap: Wi-Fi Co-Op Util.


Unfortunately, today you're stuck with my one-person neophyte view.

I think one possible way to make real headway with building widespread wireless coverage over a community is to form a cooperative "utility." Members pay a nominal fee and perhaps one-time equipment charge containing a "starter kit" for less tech savvy users. This would contain hardware and software needed to safely separate the members network from the external public access, terrestrial repeaters to extend the coverage area, and to enable the co-op to perform authentication and diagnostics. In return, they can freely get some kind of "preferred" wi-fi access anywhere in the cooperative network.

This is not to say if I own a coffee shop and are a co-op business member, I can't make wi-fi access freely available to my customers. A fair model may be that co-op members get bandwidth allocation preference over visitors. Many small businesses probably operate on a DSL connection. Some of that bandwidth needs to be maintained for business services, the rest for customer access. As wireless devices multiply, and more people can connect, the number customers on a connection will increase, creating a need to increase bandwidth, and/or limit connections to assure comfortable throughput for all.

Also, in order to encourage and get average users to adopt and spread the wi-fi love, you need to make it simple and safe. Simple and safe requires easy-to-use equipment and tech know-how to make it that way. Stitching gaps in coverage will require someone to add access points. This will require money and incentive for residential users. Therefore, if we can provide a value-added benefit to those who support access via providing access points and supplying bandwidth, this would encourage adoption.

What is the incentive of Joe Average, who lives across the street from a great park location to incur the hassle of wiring up power to an access node on his porch and doesn't know fact number one about firewalls or network configurations?

Visitors to Austin, or events like conventions that may have a need for temporary access, could purchase a limited membership or contract the utility to provide services for the event. Revenues from these services would go to financing tech support, system maintenance, and equipment in public areas and areas with coverage gaps. Other revenues could come from the sale of customized hardware. Hiding access nodes in fake plants, pink lawn flamingos, lamps and other places, and finding ways to make extending the access range aesthetically pleasing, may create more incentive to do so.

A unified organization can also help to leverage municipalities to help with providing equipment installation of public property and subsidizing costs to make sure coverage gets into more hard-to-reach and economically disadvantaged locales. Over time, co-ops could have sharing agreements with other "utilities." If the Austin co-op and the Pflugerville co-op have an agreement, I'll be able to surf the stats of the visiting pitcher while at a Round Rock Express game as easily as surfing from downtown Austin.

While there's encouraging progress in local government taking initiatives with providing free access. However, even a with governments support, I think a more knowledgeable specialized organization needs to be involved to keep the government honest and prevent every interest group trying to influence how you use your wireless access.

This isn't a comprehensive battle plan, but maybe it can add something to the dialogue occurring about increasing wireless access in Austin. This is been a stream of consciousness guest entry from Josh Babetski. You can find my other nonsensical ramblings at