Suffolk County Wi-Fi Buzz
In this article by Emi Endo, I get the last word in, but it oversimplifies my position on the idea of having a county-wide wireless network. One of the great things about blogs, the web, and search engines, is that if you feel that your ideas haven't gotten across or your position has been misrepresented, you can respond, and be your own editor.
I'm not totally opposed to the county doing a wireless network. I do question the need and feasibilty of creating a network almost ten times the size of Philadelphia's that will cover a population far less dense. I certainly wouldn't want to see public money used to build the network, when we have so many more pressing needs and the most choice in broadband of any region in the country already.
I'd also like to see at least one member of the current group of existing WISPs named to the county's study committee, because the group of firms that have built out what exists today, have largely done so by the sweat of their brows, and strains of their backs, rather than have Google-sized investments aid their building and operation. I certainly wouldn't like to see a well-connected campaign contributor waltz in and have access to prime real estate at a bargain price.
Since we have plenty of available residential broadband, I think the focus on this effort should be to address the underserved, and to address our choking traffic issues. The point shouldn't necessarily be to build a thin wi-fi edge to the network with the barest of coverage, but to build a next generation mobile backhaul network that leapfrogs the speeds currently offered by the wireless carriers and would give intra-island commuters a compelling reason to use wi-fi enabled intra-island mass transit.
What I envision is a mash-up of Google Maps+Hot or Not, and Wi-RAN, a service to create ad-hoc commuter bus/van routes, where groups of locals find each other with a common work area, and can have an internet enabled ride to and from work, a compelling reason to leave the car at home, or at least at a local park and ride lot created in the abundant vacant strip retail centers that we have.
We need to focus on applications for the network that serve the public good, rather than just network connectivity for its own sake, because we have plenty of that here. It's expensive, yes, but as I said in my letter to the editor in LIBN (see below), you can't beat the performance available.
Long Island Business News, Letter to the Editor, February 3, 2006
I realize that it was just two lines in a speech, but the accompanying statements in the article show a breathtaking lack of awareness by our leaders of what is going on in the county and the country with existing small businesses, the technology, and the market. Let’s do a network that really addresses our needs, instead of copying Philly.
Most of the municipal networks in progress or proposed have grown out of the lack of broadband in their regions. We’ve got one of the highest penetration rates of broadband in the nation. Cringe at the price, but the product outclasses anything else. Verizon is in gear, which promises two data gushers into every house that can afford it. Wireless carriers offer mobile broadband from Manhattan to Montauk. Small WISPs have bootstrapped themselves and built networks that cover much of the county, including the Hauppauge Industrial Park. At least two serve it today. You could have custom built them a net for the price of the study mentioned. Is the county exec going to invite a goliath in at below-market rates to squash the home team? There are already companies that have bought licensed frequencies in the WiMAX bands that will bring a third pipe into the house. What about BPL, which may be a fourth pipe? There's no shortage of private and quasi-public efforts to cover the county.
Take a focused approach that brings basic broadband to households that can't currently afford $45.00/month, like Wyandanch, Riverhead, and North Amityville. Do innovative projects surrounding transportation and downtown revitalization, broadband on mass transit, or net equipped van pools to get folks out of their single occupant cars, which we’re choking on. That’s true innovation and progress. Integrated systems matching commuters to destinations and schedules, combined with networked jitneys that offer the prospect of a productive commute. A visionary would offer service to the areas where folks can't afford broadband, use the internet to get people on mass transit and into the downtowns, rather than throwing a useless blanket over us. I wrote this stuck on a delayed LIRR train. I couldn’t send it until I got home, because the MTA hasn’t been interested in proposals for bringing wi-fi to rail cars. We could have put free wi-fi on every new railcar the MTA has for less than what it cost them for the holiday giveaway, which didn’t help us out here.