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By Carol Ellison  |  Posted 2005-03-16 Print this article Print

: Extending economy and efficiency with mesh networks"> Some of those "other things" include using the mesh to wirelessly read residential utility meters in Corpus Christi, Texas (another state with an anti-muni bill pending). Not only has the municipal mesh made the city utility more efficient, it addresses the public worries that result from meter readers entering private homes. New Orleans installed 100 security cameras in high crime areas around the city to keep an eye on activity. That makes sense; officers cant be everywhere all the time but a mesh-cam system can. Munis that hes worked with, says Sege, tend to follow one of the following models:
  • Munis using the mesh strictly as a private network for police, fire, emergency and other city services. This model is currently in use in Framingham, Mass.; Milpitas and San Mateo, Calif.; and Franklin, Tenn.
  • Munis acting as an ISP for their residents, a model followed in Chaska, Minn.
  • Munis owning the network for use with city services but selling excess capacity to ISPs, which, in turn, offer services to residents.
  • Munis engaging in a cable TV franchise-style model, making rights of way available to a private operator in exchange for some sort of consideration. Madison, Wis., and Tucson and Tempe, Ariz., currently use this model.
    Legislation being considered in Colorado (curiously just next door to DyanamicCitys UTOPIA project—perhaps Colorado legislators should pay their neighbors a visit before voting) scotches the dream that any of these models or anything like UTOPIA could connect Colorados communities. Declaring that "there is a need for statewide uniformity in the regulation of all public and private entities that provide cable television service, telecommunications service and advanced service,"Colorados Senate Bill 05-152 forbids local governments from providing such service, which includes broadband of any kind—wireless or wired, to even one subscriber. Read that again if you missed it the first time. Not even one. Not if the municipality wants to engage a private provider in a partnership or joint venture. Not if the municipality wants to subcontract the whole darned operation. Not if the municipality wants to franchise the operation in the way most cable TV franchises presently operate. Obviously, companies like Tropos Networks and DynamicCity have good reason to denounce such legislation. It robs them of the ability to do business with municipalities and, instead, forces them to negotiate with competing providers (with their own aging infrastructures to protect) if they hope to do business there at all.Understandably, theyre not happy. The anti-muni bills present a scenario where their companies arent submitting bids to win the business. Theyre forced into negotiations with a competitor, the incumbent carrier, which understandably will want to protect the market and keep its competition out. "One could argue that if these laws were in place at the dawn of cable TV, there wouldnt be cable TV right now," said Sege. Certainly, in Colorado they could. Not only does the bill disenfranchise the municipality from entering into any sort of negotiation with providers, it disenfranchises local voters from participating in any local initiative in authorizing city fathers to develop any kind of communications services in their communities. Colorados bill may be the most egregious in stealing local control from municipalities. It makes services of any sort verboten. But legislation pending in other states, even when it offers municipalities some wiggle room to negotiate their fates with big broadband companies, likewise removes the decision from local voters and their municipalities and grants incumbent carriers monopolistic control of the cities broadband future. Gould believes anti-competitive practices in the United States—and he counts state anti-municipal legislation among them—as the reason why Americans pay comparatively more for Internet access than citizens of other developed nations. He cites a recent report from the International Telecommunications Union that shows the United States in 2004 ranked 13th in broadband penetration, falling from fourth in 2001. "We believe the reason were underserved and overcharged is because there hasnt been fair competition," said Gould. To his mind the original Ma Bell—which was subsidized by the government and given rights of way, capital, guaranteed rates of return and captive rate payers—was never fully decontrolled, and recent mergers that have reduced the number of competing telecoms to six raise the specter that it never will be. U.S. Senators are also nervous about telecom mergers. Click here and read why. "On a local level you went from the original Ma Bell to multiple Ma Bells," he said. Long-distance rates went down as a result of decontrol but "at the local level it didnt happen. You still had the original Bell footprint." The Telecom Act of 1996, which opened local carriers networks to allow other ISPs to run on them, "hasnt delivered the desired result" of fostering lively competition. "The motivation of the municipality is to be able to bring quality of life into a community," said Gould. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.

    Carol Ellison is editor of's Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has authored whitepapers on wireless computing (two on network security–,Securing Wi-Fi Wireless Networks with Today's Technologies, Wi-Fi Protected Access: Strong, Standards-based Interoperable Security for Today's Wi-Fi Networks, and Wi-Fi Public Access: Enabling the future with public wireless networks.

    Ms. Ellison served in senior and executive editorial positions for Ziff Davis Media and CMP Media. As an executive editor at Ziff Davis Media, she launched the networking track of The IT Insider Series, a newsletter/conference/Web site offering targeted to chief information officers and corporate directors of information technology. As senior editor at CMP Media's VARBusiness, she launched the Web site, VARBusiness University, an online professional resource center for value-added resellers of information technology.

    Ms. Ellison has chaired numerous industry panels and has been quoted as a networking and educational technology expert in The New York Times, Newsday, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio's All Things Considered, CNN Headline News, WNBC and CNN/FN, as well as local and regional Comcast and Cablevision reports. Her articles have appeared in most major hi-tech publications and numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.

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