SXSW: Future of Broadband Wireless Networks

jonl: backchannel: irc.freechannel.net #muni

Fleishman: Sucked in unintentionally.
Covers industry events.
Think tank report: muni networks are terrible.
Report exploded across print media and net.
It also appeared in WSJ, multiple articles.
Became an unintentional expert on muni networks.
To frame debate: a growing movement (a little less elsewhere in world) as to
who should be building broadband networks.
Comcast, Verizon, Covad, others concerned.
Who should be building muni networks? Using taxpayer money or bonds.
100 years ago, muni electrical networks were latest thing.
Newspapers across nation debated.
"Muni networks waste money."
"Surely isn't the public interest."
There is nothing new under the sun.
Question for panel: are muni networks a new kind of thing or follow in the tradition of existing utilities.
The jury may be out as to whether muni power is the best idea.
People of California may have strong ideas on this.
Different camps:
Some people believe strongly munis should build networks.
Others think it is terrible, taxpayers will be soaked.
Neutral people (like Fleishman) allow each town or city to make decision for themselves.
Sock puppets: institutions and think tanks and policy groups that are funded by the incumbent carriers.
Bills have been introduced in many states to limit this.

Vos: run muniwireless.com.
A site devoted to tracking muni projects around world.
Started June 2003.
Thought it would be a big thing.
Go from wifi in house to cafe to downtown to city/county wide.
There was nothing on the net at that time to find out what cities were doing.
If you were thinking of deploying a zone, there wasn't a place to go for info.
Started a Movable Type blog, gathered stories
June to Sep 2003, two to three stories a week
Feb 2004, started to take off
In Finland, already have been city wireless broadband in 2.5 years.
In EU, the European Comm ordered utility and phone companies to deregulate.
The electric companies were looking for other sources of revenue.
In 1990s, began providing broadband services.
Can't get fiber to everybody, use wireless.
The networks already existed in 2003, and they already supported roaming.
You could go subscribe to utility service, go to another town, get service there on local utility.
In June 2004, first anniversary. Produced summary report.
A lot of cities that don't open access, make available to police.
San Mateo, CA runs a mesh with transmitters on light poles.
There is an upgrade cycle going on in munis for telecom.
Too much happening, didn't want to wait a whole 'nother year to June.
Just put out a partial update.
Can download report from site.
Also update on what is hottest thing.
Hottest thing is anti-muni laws.
Pennsylvania is most well known.
Pushed by Verizon, signed by governor.
Irony is that it isn't the big cities that are affected most (like Philly).
It is the small towns that don't have any broadbands.
Texas is following.
Texas has two muni networks: Corpus Christi and Granbury.
Both are leading edge.
Corpus uses theirs for both safety and public access.
Granbury started with meter reading, moved to safety, looking at public access.
Summary: There are 51 US cities that have big hot zones deployed or planned.
Not as strong in Europe. Laws to encourage privatization prohibits many muni networks.
Still, EU is moving forward.
There is strong competition there.
In 1990s, the Dutch PTT wouldn't even offer call waiting.
Today, can get 8Mbps broadband service inexpensively.
In US, munis can play that role.
But Verizon and SBC don't want to play nice.
Learned today Verizon is putting out a document with reported failures in muni broadband.
Problem is that many of these are actually successes.
Report depends on badly sourced journalism.
Sees bloggers as a response to that.
Esme will take that list and counter with fact.

MacKinnon: founder and president of Austin Wireless City Project
About 100 hotspots in Austin.
Different from open access points, have a common login screen.
Credentials can be used at all hotspots.
Provides usage metrics and a measure of security.
When first started with project, wanted to take a page out of the book of Usenet.
Build a network that is redundant and resilient.
Afraid of building a network that could be taken down by a single shot.
Usenet is a set of nodes, independent more or less.
There were obvious ways to start a network here.
One would be to partner with city and have a city-centered network.
Afraid a day would come when city would lose interest or prohibited from participating.
That day has now come.
Current hotspots 70% are private, 30% are city operated.
So AWN would only use 30% if law goes into effect.
Each venue needs to pay their own way.
This means purchasing business-class broadband from providers.
Diversity of broadband providers adds reliability.
Being disaggregated makes AWN resilient.
Texas HB 789, lead to savemuniwireless.org
Purpose is to inform people and mobilize them to action.
Write, fax, call your representatives.
Organized testimony for capital.
Ran for several days.
Organized people to travel several hundred miles.
After first day, only heard 6 professional telco lobbyists.
Muni network people had to go home without testifying.
Committee refused to allow written testimony to be entered.
It is anti-wireless, anti-innovative, anti-competitive, anti-democratic, anti-social, anti-family.
In other industries, government is allowed to provide competitive services.
Do we see an uprising that government provides bus service? Or roads?
UPS and FedEx seem to be able to compete with Postal Service.
If your town doesn't have broadband, only has dialup, it hampers your ability to participate, hampers democracy.
ACLU opposes the ban.
Story of mother watching her son on a muni network getting eagle scout award.
So bill is anti-boy scout too.
Maybe there will be a rally at Dell. SBC versus Dell.

Isenberg:
Dell is the smart company at the edge. SBC is the big dumb company in the middle.
Freedom to Connect conference.
Will have local people. Dianah Neff from Philly. 40 other great speakers.
When we say new network or network of future, what are we trying to build?
It is characterized by two things?
It is the network we want. It is the network todays tech makes possible.
The network we want is a stupid network: it just carries bits.
Every "winner" application that has come to us over the past decade has been because the network is stupid.
Web, email, IM, etc.
Not one of them has been brought to us by the "smart" telco networks.
In these dumb networks, the applications are under our control.
We don't have to pay monopoly rates to Skype for service.
Instead of kilobits or single megabits of bandwidth, tech gives us gigabits.
Nobody is delivering it today in the US.
It is happening today elsewhere.
100Mbps in Japan costs $30/mo.
A reasonable person may say that, "The phone companies and cable companies will bring us the network of the future eventually."
"Just need to created incentives and proper protections."
Six reasons why that is false, and one why they have to build it anyway.
1. It's hard to execute.
Building a network means a lot of coordination, even a stupid network.
Even a well known business model like restaurant, it's hard.
90% restaurants fail in first year. Networks are harder.
The difficulty of execution could bite muni networks too.
(But small can be an advantage to nimble execution.)
2. We need a brand new business model to build the network of the future.
The old business model was vertical, depending on specialized networks.
By paying for the application (picking up the phone), you were subsidizing the infrastructure.
That model is broken.
Changing model mid-stream, especially when you are a big company is hard.
3. Telcos are focused on short-term ... the next quarter.
When Isenberg was at AT&T, was involved in next generation switch project.
Every year would say "software has changed a lot, we could rewrite the network and make it better."
Hand recommend up management chain, and response down would be "how much?"
Hand up price, and response would say "how much to just patch problems today"
Would answer "1/10th", and so management would do that.
4. There aren't any entrepreneurs in the phone companies any more.
Maybe some old ones in the cable companies.
5. The phone and cable companies will resist cannibalizing themselves.
If you are a cable company and own the dominant video entertainment paradigm?
Are you going to let your customers end run you?
6. The 80/20 rule.
In this case: 20% of the customers generate 80% of the profits.
Those are the ones the phone companies are going to go after.
If you are a city and the telco is serving 20% of your city, you are at a disadvantage.
Now you have to expend to gather the less valuable customers.
Telcos cherry pick, inhibiting competition.
One reason why they will try to build it anyway: if they don't they die.

---

Fleishman: Want to talk about competition a bit more.
I am a capitalist. I'm not a pinko.
When SBC and Verizon say "it is anti-competitive", were is money going?
It is going to companies, public-private partnerships.
It's being built by private contractors.
Tacoma power built broadband when incumbents said they wouldn't do the city.
Now offers open access, with several companies providing service.
Not about expanding role of government, but using govt as a tool.
Shouldn't SBC providing broadband to 19 counties that don't have any?

Vos: Should SBC be doing it or not?
Every town or city have different people, industries.
If you have a dumb network build by a muni, allow anybody to lease capacity.
Then you can have a variety of service providers, wired and wireless.
There is a way to make money from this stuff assuming you have a cheap pipe available.

---

Q: (affiliated with city, advises Austin Energy)
Seems battle between telcos and utilities are in same community as wireless.
Why isn't it obvious that these technology changes (wireless, BPL, etc.) are what competition is about.

Fleishman: summarize: Why do legislators not understand disruptive technologies?
What is the gap between the public wanting them and legislative action taking place.

Q: Add: What do we as activists do to bridge that gap.

Vos: Has a concrete example.
Wi-Fi conference in Amsterdam.
People in city technology office attended.
Have a time problem, in office 24/hours day.
They talk to the people they already know, and seek advice on topics they aren't experts in.
For telcom issues, they contact people who have been around for a while, and are imbued with old tech thinking.
Distributed her report at conference.
City people were shocked at number of muni networks deployed.
When you look at Tx draft legislation, it was written by people in industry.
That's where the legislators go when they need something written.
What can we do? Vos publishes reports for free, to provide facts.
Why should I charge? I want everybody to see, want to pass around.
The walls start crumbling when the facts are available.

Fleishman: local paper (Statesman) report.
Rep. King was taken aback by response to bill.
Said it was shaped by industry.
Was impressed by honesty, shows the problem.
Help by citizens building groups to go and meet with legislature, doing direct lobbying.

Isenberg: Question to questioner: you talking to austin wireless?
The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

Jon Lebkowsy from audience: when talking to committee and King.
When talking about econ development, it means something different to them.
To them it means attracting monolithing companies to Texas.
Need to convince them a whole lot of smaller companies is a very good thing.
Teach them to not just just focus on SBC.

Fleishman: I don't view phone company of enemy.
Their lobbying is a problem, though.
They are so big, you may be fighting

---

Q: Jason Savos, blogging at legislature

---

Q: The SCIU (service workers union) has made a realization:
A local group cannot organize against a multi-national.
A little group in Texas can't have success against SBC.
Needs to organize with other groups.
(end soapbox)
Current reality is 40Mbps, why aren't we demanding that.

---

Q (Adina Levin): in response to "what can I do"
The doors of your rep is open.
Todd Baxter in Austin won by a little over a hundred votes.
If you are in his district, go and visit him.
You can visit legislators in committees.
Action alert is posted.
SBC has 107 lobbyists. But there are more of us than them.
Last year citizens defeated anti-tech efforts by cable/movie industry.
We can do it again this year.

Fleishman: is this a rear guard action on the part of incumbents?
Most people here would agree.
WSJ hasn't weighed in yet on editorial page, will be interesting.

---

Q (Sue Beckwith): St. Louis Whizz Kids
Putting together wireless network, with city piece.
Would a network be in jeopardy from legislation?

Vos: Yes. These bills are very broadly written.
The Pennsylvania may prohibit you setting up an access point in your neighborhood.
About 15 passed bills, about 10 have pending legislation, 2-3 killed them,

---

Q: Prior to 1984 network was owned by one company.
Since they broke up network, there has been tremendous competition and change.
We are seeing the death of the minute, death of location.
By providing free wireless, aren't you taking away the last bit of service from the RBOCs?
What will the new model look like?

Fleishman: a) Are we talking about free wireless? b) How will that affect businesses?
Most munis have little-to-no free component.
Philly (e.g.) is planning subsidized access to poor, but not free.

MacKinnon: aftermath, we had a variety of competition.
20 years later, where are those companies?
We need to revisit market conditions.
Maybe it's time for another 1984.
With wireless, we've enabled a lot of new competitors to enter.

Fleishman: I will believe there is competition when RBOCs enter. When will SBC go to Philly and try to setup a wireless network?

---

Q: Best roads are often in the best part of town.
Muni network may deploy where best voters are.

Fleishman: been lawsuits on optical fiber redlining.

---

Q: (audience participants begin to editorialize and sermonize ... blah blah blah ...)

---

Q (Dewayne Hendricks): FCC release report on broadband access last week.
Opportunity for input for feds to pre-empty.

---

Isenberg: "what can we do" is the right question

Technorati tag: