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“OMG, FREE WIFI HAZARDS!” in the press again, stories contradict the headlines.

A few weeks ago, the Oregonian had a story by Bryan Denson that sounded like a scary example of leaving your wifi open. Then a few days ago, MSNBC had a similar story. The cases involved police tracing distributors of illegal material to an internet service location, and in the media they are commonly and periodically portrayed as one of the risks inherent in operating an open wifi network. The problem is, the scary headlines and stern advice are largely wrong or misleading. And in fact, if you are to actually read the article, the authors of the stories actually say as much.

Let’s take the first example. In this case, the police trace a child-porn sharer to an IP address, and from the IP address to a street address. However, contrary to the fearmongers, the police take the necessary next step. In order to build their case, according to the story, they do NOT assume that their suspect is the owner of the house at that address, but check to see if there is an open wifi network. In fact, they find such a network, identify the source of the illegal images as someone NOT at the service address, but rather someone else nearby. Through good police work, the authorities identify their suspect and arrest them. The story doesn’t mention whether the owner of the house at the IP addresses street address was ever approached at all! So, the text of the story is how dangerous it is to have an open wifi network, and yet fails to actually identify any actual risk!

In the second story, through bad police work in another child-porn case, a house is broken into erroneously by police and the home owner is assaulted because they did NOT do the investigation necessary to identify the actual perpetrator. But of course, the story is NOT about the bad police work, but rather how dangerous it is to have an open wifi network. With incompetent police work, everyone is at risk, not just operators of open wifi networks!

Repeat after me: “an IP address does not equal a person”. The sooner the news media and the police understand that, the sooner the former can begin writing intelligent stories on the subject and the sooner the latter can follow the professional and diligent example of the police in Milwaukie, and avoid the embarrassment of looking incompetent, possibly tipping off the actual perpetrator and risking legitimate lawsuits for assaulting innocent people.

An Open Letter to Jack Bogdanski

Earlier this month, Jack Bogdanski took a revisionist shot at Personal Telco in the comments of one of his posts. Mr. Bogdanski has a funny history with PTP. He initially praised us when he discovered PTP President Russell Senior’s node. He even used Russell’s node during a power outage. At some point, BoJack decided that PTP was combative. I believe that was the actual word he used, but I can no longer find the comment in which he said it. Removal of comments from his site is common.

BoJack’s issue with PTP seems to be two-fold. Firstly, our members have at times pointed out that while MetroFi was a failure, Portland tax-payers were mostly shielded from the costs. Secondly, Russell and I have both been outspoken proponents of public or community built (and owned) fiber infrastructure. BoJack apparently feels that fiber and WiFi are like services, and that MetroFi’s failure is a perfect prelude to what would happen to a public fiber network. Simply put, he doesn’t seem to tolerate the opinions of others very much.

I don’t really mind that he and I have different opinions about fiber, but it does bug me that he’s begun to act like PTP was in some way supportive of Unwire Portland and/or MetroFi. He really should know that we weren’t, and were often openly critical, because a number of those criticisms were expressed on his blog.

Yesterday I posted what I thought was a fair rebuttal of Mr. Bogdanski’s sniping at Personal Telco. It was posted until sometime in the early morning, when it was evidently removed for running afoul of his sensitivities. The entire comment is below. You can judge for yourself if I was fair. Whatever your determination, you’re welcome to comment.

Jack, you should recall, since this is such a big issue for you, that Personal Telco members were extremely critical of MetroFi and the way that Unwire Portland unfolded. I personally, when both a spokesperson and later president of PTP, criticized the Unwire Portland RFP and the assumptions the City made in planning the project. I pressed the PDC to be clear that property tax dollars were used in the planning phase of what I, and the majority of Personal Telco members, felt was a lousy RFP that was destined to result in a failed network.

Once the MetroFi network build out began, I criticized the performance of the network from day 1. The current PTP president (Russell, your neighbor, whose wifi you praised before labeling him “combative” for not agreeing with you) and another member did a serious analysis, on their own dime, of the network performance and encouraged the city not to allow MetroFi to proceed until they fixed the problems. When the city announced that the company they hired to evaluate the initial MetroFi build out determined that it met the criteria the city demanded, I wrote a lengthy, open letter examining in detail the faults with this testing and the failure to test the network under real world conditions.

Throughout the MetroFi project, Personal Telco members were derided by MetroFi spokespeople and called biased by many journalists and bloggers who felt we saw MetroFi as an existential threat. Obviously, this was not the case.

Unwire Portland, as it was handled with the MetroFi contract, was an abject failure. We predicted that. We also attempted to help the city (and that really means the tax payers) of Portland derive value from Unwire Portland in the face of horrible mismanagement by a company that no longer exists, corporate advisers who have moved to greener pastures (or new snake oil, if you want to be cynical) and both a CTO and PDC staffer who are long gone from Portland. Somehow, in your world where it is more important to make enemies than it is to make friends, you have decided that this makes PTP members combative and shills for a city government you despise.

As bad as Unwire Portland was, it could have been worse. The city limited its exposure pretty significantly in a climate where many cities were being pressed to take on much larger financial stakes in these networks. Did the city lose some money? Yes. Could they have made a better choice? Yes. Would it have been wiser, in hindsight, to never pursue Unwire Portland? Probably. The Unwire Portland process began in 2003, as I recall. It ended, again, in failure, in 2008. Over that period of time, the city and PDC together spent under $1 million. I’m not going to call that chump change, but put it in perspective. That’s under $200K a year, out of a $2.5 billion budget (http://www.portlandonline.com/omf/index.cfm?c=53162), or less than one hundredth of a percent (0.008%).

Add up the time you’ve spent criticizing this project, or better yet, just the time you’ve spent sniping at PTP because some of us support public fiber (which has nothing in common with Unwire Portland, other than both of them being infrastructures that could be used to visit your blog). I bet that you’ll find you’re burning more than 0.008% of your life on this. It’s probably not worth it.