Feeds

Could Muni Fiber KO Muni Wi-Fi?

Last mile, city-owned net

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Berkeley city council in California has become the latest city to examine municipal ownership of "the last mile", a move which could deal the latest blow to the stalling Municipal Wi-Fi movement. Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley voted to investigate a fiber to the home (FTTH) scheme a few days earlier.

Berkeley had looked set to rubber stamp the Wi-Fi option, but voted 5:1 instead for a feasibility plan which would see the city partner with a private contractor for fiber.

"A successful economic model for running municipal Wi-Fi networks has yet to emerge," notes from the city's director of IT, Chris Mead, acknowledge.

The city also noted that while subscription models for Wi-Fi have been a flop, advertising-based revenue "cannot be taken for granted", either.

"It may be that municipal Wi-Fi is a passing fad that will be left behind by economic reality and new technology," advised Mead.

Some FTTH plans are well advanced.

Seattle, Wa. voted to explore ownership of the last mile two years ago - issuing a RFI (Request for Interest) in May. But the poster child is undoubtedly Utah's appropriately named UTOPIA MetroNet project. A bond issue raised $85m two years ago, and now 14 areas will receive FTTH at speeds of up to 100mbit/s. (See this detailed Spectrum report for more details.

Laying fiber to the home is a much more expensive proposition than the cheap and cheerful option of attaching 802.11 transceivers to street posts. But it offers many advantages, the most significant of which is that residents would have a genuine alternative to the local Bell monopoly and the local cable provider.

Fiber would also offer the municipality a much greater opportunity to monetize the investment. Fiber links can be opened up to content providers to offer entertainment services such as IPTV, in addition to broadband and telephony.

And there are basic technical advantages. Wi-Fi doesn't handle mobile operations well, standards haven't settled, and coverage is patchy and flaky.

Typical city Wi-Fi contracts only stipulate that the contractor provide reception to street-facing rooms or the front rooms of apartments - and it's too bad if your apartment doesn't face the street. However, fiber promises far greater bandwidth at speeds 80x faster than the 256kbp/s basic tier that forms San Francisco's contract. The signal is naturally less vulnerable to weather conditions, challenging topology, or leaves on trees.

The disadvantages are obvious: it's more expensive, harder to sell, and still faces regulatory challenges and hard lobbying from incumbents.

Verizon lobbied hard against Muni Wi-Fi, to protect its high speed mobile 3G investments. But Verizon has already burned through $2bn laying its FiOS fiber network. So how much would it cost the city, really?

According to advocate Bill St Arnaud, quoted by Bob Frankston, who in turn was cited in a recent Robert X Cringely column that helped swing the Berkeley vote, the price per home is $1000 to $1500. Amortized over ten years that comes to $12.50 a month.

Palo Alto, one of the most socially divided cities in the US, estimated the cost of a FTTH network at $40m.

That's a lot of social services. And, of course, householders who already have cable or DSL may see this as unnecessary burden.

St Arnaud admits that there is "no obvious consumer demand for 'third' network", and that "North America is well served with a duopoly, with [the] 'promised' potential of WiMaX, BPL [broadband over powerline] and other technologies" just around the corner.

There's also a problem he could have mentioned, but didn't. If councils adopt "net neutrality" legislation, or if such legislation is forced upon the municipalities by Congress, there will be little interest from the content providers, who then find themselves doomed to compete with BitTorrent downloaders. The content providers are essential if the service is to pay for itself - and such content companies themselves are keen to find a competitor to King Cable.

We'll see.

It's unlike Mark Stephens, author of the Robert X Cringely column, to refrain from crowing about his influence. We trust he'll soon rectify this. ®

Related link

Bill St Arnaud - A New Business Strategy for last mile infrastructure [PDF,1MB]

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
Broadband sellers in the UK are UP TO no good, says Which?
Speedy network claims only apply to 10% of customers
Virgin Media struck dumb by NATIONWIDE packet loss balls-up
Turning it off and on again fixes glitch 12 HOURS LATER
Fujitsu CTO: We'll be 3D-printing tech execs in 15 years
Fleshy techie disses network neutrality, helmet-less motorcyclists
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
Soz, web devs: Google snatches its Wallet off the table
Killing off web service in 3 months... but app-happy bonkers are fine
Ofcom tackles complaint over Premier League footie TV rights
Virgin Media: UK fans pay the most for the fewest matches
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Internet Security Threat Report 2014
An overview and analysis of the year in global threat activity: identify, analyze, and provide commentary on emerging trends in the dynamic threat landscape.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.