Municipal Broadband Bills Come Under Fire

Opinion: Wireless and wired-line competitors for municipal broadband agree on one thing-legislation that turns local control over to incumbent carriers is anti-competitive. And recent telecom mergers make it more so.

If not for politics and broadband, Ben Gould and Ron Sege might not have much in common. As chief marketing officer for DynamicCity, Gould sells fiber to the premises, or FTTP, solutions. As CEO of Tropos Networks, Sege delivers metro-scale broadband solutions wirelessly over mesh networks.

In some ways these are competing technologies. In other ways, they are perfectly compatible. Sooner or later, even wireless technologies have to link to a broadband backbone. But at the moment, their chief point of unison is the fight for municipalities rights to self-determination.

Both men and their companies oppose legislation, floating about a growing number of states, that rob municipalities and local voters of the right to determine whether their municipal governments should provide broadband services. Instead of leaving the question up to localities and their voters, the bills deliver monopolistic control of the question to "incumbent carriers" (as they are identified in the bills). That would be the dominant carrier in your neck of the woods.

Ironically, most do so in the name of competition, but the experiences of Tropos Networks, DynamicCity and their clients testify to the array of local solutions—and the technologies that support them—that the anti-muni bills would wipe out.

Tropos Networks sells metro-scale mesh routers to cities that want to use broadband wireless to automate mobile remote and location-based city services. The centerpiece of DynamicCitys work is an open service provider network, called Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, or UTOPIA, that is bringing broadband to homes in a 14-community political subdivision in Utah. UTOPIA provides the backbone. An array of private companies use it to provide service.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about the UTOPIA project.

DynamicCitys business model is focused on bringing the pipe into homes. Tropos Networks provides mesh wireless networks designed to accommodate an array of municipal communications. Residential access to the Internet is an attractive extra but rarely the driver that brings clients to their door.

Tropos Networks is now working with Philadelphia, the city that has put muni-wireless in the public spotlight. But few of Tropos other clients are attempting anything on the scale of what Philadelphia has in mind.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read how Philadelphia is working with Tropos Networks.

Until recently, said Sege, the focus for wireless mesh networks has been on public safety and municipal efficiency. Tropos clients such as North Miami Beach, Fla.; Frisco, Texas; and San Mateo and Milpitas, Calif., put mesh networks to work to communicate Amber Alerts and allow police and public safety officers to access crime databases. "Up until metro-scale Wi-Fi came along they had to be sitting at their desk to access that stuff," he explained.

Once the meshes were in place, he said, "clients began asking if they couldnt connect other things. Generally theres so much bandwidth the police cant consume it all. Youd be silly not to use it for other things if its sitting there half idle."

Next page: Extending economy and efficiency with mesh networks.