Comment on the 6/16 Oregonian Article

Recently, the Oregonian interviewed me for an article about low and no-cost Internet options in Portland post MetroFi. I appreciate that Mike Rogoway and the Oregonian consider our voice relevant and important to this discussion.

While I appreciate that in the aftermath of a large failure, such as MetroFi’s Portland network, there is a natural tendency to focus on the failure and to be pessimistic about the future, we feel that the Oregonian and the City are overlooking the great potential that still exists in the hands and minds of individual Portlanders willing to get involved and unwire Portland anyway.

Consider this:

There are approximately 2500 wireless access points per square mile in Portland. That’s 100 times the coverage that MetroFi planned to deploy. If only a fraction of these access points were setup as Personal Telco nodes, we could truly “Unwire Portland” overnight, with little-to-no extra expenditure AND no ads. It’s not that hard. We can help.

Though the Oregonian correctly quotes me as saying that there are few good options for individuals who are looking for a cheap or free service provider, this does not mean that no options exist. It’s absolutely possible to get broadband Internet access for very little money if you are willing to cooperate and share with your neighbors. The Personal Telco Project meets every Wednesday, and we’re eager to assist anyone who wants to setup a Community Network.

To be sure, there are still many barriers to Universal Internet Access in Portland, and these need the attention of the public, politicians and businesses. Wireless access is not a panacea, especially not when deployed by a single entity, like MetroFi, and the solution may require significant expenditures on infrastructure. However, these challenges are no excuse for pessimism or defeat in the face of one failed private company. Portland is home to one of the country’s great brain trusts for these issues, the Personal Telco Project. Get involved. Come to a meeting, join our mailing list, and share your connection.

Ask not what free WiFi can do for you, ask what you can do for free WiFi.

2 Responses to “Comment on the 6/16 Oregonian Article”

  1. If the cities can go with the idea that users might have to pay something, even if it’s $10, to get access, then our company and many others would be in the ballgame. We are deploying systems with the plan of allowing some very low cost access to break the digital divide wall down. We expect to have 4 cities online before the end of the year and should be able to demonstrate that even those rates can be profitable. It’s still better than free that goes out of business.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Michael. In fairness, I think the article wasn’t as pessimistic as you suggest. I tried to illustrate that there are many potential alternatives, at Personal Telco and elsewhere, if people pursue them:

    Though no one has a quick fix for the Internet have-nots, there’s some cause for hope that the failure of Portland’s citywide network might inspire more modest replacements to serve those who can least afford their own Web access. And new technologies could open the door to more competition, and cheaper access, in the years to come.

    – Mike

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