Muni Broadband: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Page 3

By Marlon Schafer

January 04, 2007

Local ISPs should build local networks

The part that amazes me the most is how municipal networks seem to get designed and built. Very rarely do we see the cities hiring local people that are already experienced in the technology and the local operating environment. Nnooooo, they have to hire Cisco, Lucent, or Google. Google? They make search engines! What does Google know about high speed wireless access in San Francisco? Give me a break. What does Cisco know about building Wi-Fi networks in your city? Sure, they bought out Aironet many years ago, but Aironet didn't deploy networks, they built data radios.

I'm not saying that those companies aren't good. I'm not even willing to say that they can't build good wireless networks. What I am saying is that the operators in Dallas would be able to build a better network than someone that has never been to Dallas.

If municipalities are going to keep building networks, I do hope that they will look before they leap and only build networks where no one else has. And I hope that they will work closely with existing providers in the area. I hope they will work with those that have already built networks in their communities.

Can we have advanced communications networks without government involvement? I think it would be nice to at least try! Shoot, the internet as we know it is only a decade old. Am I really the only one that thinks that we're panicking over a bunch of nothing? Here America has had one of the best communications networks in the world in 1990. Suddenly in 2006, when the rest of the world has had to build brand new state of the art networks just to have any kind of a network, Americans are supposed to be upset that we don't have the best one?

On top of that, should we feel bad that we don't need a bigger, better, faster communications infrastructure? We're supposed to feel bad that we already get our games, phone, movies etc. via a network that's not fiber to the home? Does it seem at all normal that there are some that are trying to tell us how ignorant and behind the times we are because we aren't willing to pay for additional networks to be built? Is it really that horrible of a thing that we actually have jobs and entertainment mechanisms that don't require yet another investment? Is it bad that we're finding ways to improve the usefulness of the networks that are already out there?

Now, before anyone (again) accuses me of being either an old stick in the mud (I'm only 40) or that I'm not a fan of building newer and better networks let me defend myself. See, I've spent the last 6 years building a state of the art wireless network that spans part of three counties. Our customers have access to VoIP services. Heck, we've used Vonage in my office since 2002. We built a network that allowed public safety to roam, not only from cell to cell but from town to town at speeds in excess of today's DSL services clear back in 2001. We have customers that get 8 meg down by 8 meg up broadband service for a mere $75 per month. We've offered customers that can't even get phone service wireless service in excess of 1 meg both ways as far back as 2000.

I'm certainly no technophobe. I'm one of the guys building the next generation network. I was in the broadband business when it was too young to be called cutting edge. We had to grow up to cutting edge. I sure hope I never have to go through that hell again! What a pain in the you know what.

The part about my story, and the part that those that hate this article won't understand or believe is that I've built this network. Sorry, that should read "am building this network" with my own money. I'm not funded by you. I'm not building my network the way some bureaucrat thinks it should be built. I'm not building it faster than it can support itself. I'm building the network that my customers want to be serviced by. One that they don't have to pay taxes to support. One that they don't have to pay higher prices that would be used to cover the costs of people who don't even want the service. It's organic. It's entrepreneurial. It's home made. It's totally customized for those who are expected to use it. How cool is that?

We can build what we need

We need broadband to the masses. Scratch that, we have broadband to the masses. The rest need it too. The government has to stay out of the way if they are going to get it, though.

Before anyone gets too worked up about broadband, there needs to be better data collection. In my industry, fixed wireless, the FCC has had around 400 WISPs fill out the form 477. WISPA (wireless internet service providers association) claims that there are at least 3,000 WISPs. Pew Internet's May, 2006 report, Home Broadband 2006 [.pdf], claims there are several thousand WISPs serving 6 million subscribers.

I believe that the gap between the broadband haves and have nots is actually much smaller than is commonly reported. And whatever problem does exist is fixing it's self at a high rate of speed. Talk to any manufacturer of any broadband technology and ask them how sales have been. Then ask MOST of their customers what percent of their spending is funded by government. I think you'll be surprised at how little government money has gone into the average advanced communications network over the last decade.

Relax, take a deep breath. Let capitalism work for a while. In another 10 years, if there are still pockets of America that don't have good broadband choices, let's revisit the issue. Goodness knows, living without advanced communications will be less than easy in the coming century. Let's take enough time to make sure that we build the network right. Let's not create a broadband panic like we've created a health care panic. I certainly don't want my internet fees to shoot up like my insurance costs have!

Story courtesy of ISP-Planet.

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