Thursday, December 01, 2005

Akron Moving Toward City-Wide Wi-Fi/Wi-Max

From today's Beacon:

Akron has chosen NeoReach, a subsidiary of MobilePro Corp. of Maryland, to
install a pilot wireless network near Fulton International Airport. The test
area will serve city workers and could become the seed for a citywide
network open to residents and businesses.

NeoReach also has initiated a pilot program in Cuyahoga Falls. If both
pilots are taken citywide with NeoReach, residents could have access to the
Internet from either city with the same account.

As always happens when a city heads toward wireless, we've caught a lot of attention. You can get a more technical discussion of the plan here. Meanwhile, wireless enthursiasts note another step in the march. Other cities wring their hands about falling behind.

Not being a tech guy, I don't have opinions about NeoReach. If I see anything elsewhere in the NEOsphere, I will link to it. I did run across a Slate piece about Wi-Max vs. Wi-Fi.

The political dimension of wireless, I do have opinions about. In other states city-wide wireless has kicked up considerable dust and inspired rent-seeking lobbying by cell phone companies. Pennsylvania where a Philadelphia public/private wireless plan inspired a $3 million lobbying campaign by Verizon, has been paradigmatic case.
As this Slate piece notes:Companies like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and SBC don't want citywide wireless broadband because they'd much prefer the wireless market to look like the cell-phone market. Instead of wireless becoming something akin to a public utility, the telecom companies envision a pastiche of providers divvying up the market much the way cell-phone providers have carved up the United States. If you want wireless broadband, you may have to subscribe to a local phone service or accept a slew of services you don't want. And even if the country is blanketed with wireless, you might have to pay roaming charges to access competitors' networks. In the end, you'll probably end up paying more than with muni broadband, not to mention that emergency responders crossing from one network to another won't be able to communicate as efficiently.

As the Slate piece notes, the controversy has inspired dueling Federal bills to either restrict municipalities from establishing networks or letting them be. Both bills appear stalled in Committee.

Suprisingly, given the General Assembly's fealty toward business interests, Ohio hasn't seen an effort like Pennsylvania's. Whether the cell companies are concentrating on the Federal legislation or taking another tack, I can't determine.

Limiting government "competition" against private concerns has been an active front in the rightwing war on the private sector, and the subject of proposed legislation here. This bill is not as draconian as another proposal that would simply disallow the government from offering any service that could be supplied by a private company. And of course, none of this touches Rick Santorum's disgraceful campaign against the Weather Service. All of these are less about free market economics and more about hosing citizens for the benefit of private corporations.

So we need to keep an eye on whether NeoReach's pilot works. We also need to watch whether either the State or the Feds try to tell Akron that it can't offer these services to its citizens.