Share the Sky
We may be able to provision Internet access for public wireless by means of a governmental waiver of vaulting requirements for data services. Say what?
Some years ago, Electric Lightwave Inc. (ELI), a data transmission company, was planning a high speed fiber optic line to Washington County, Oregon. They wanted to run the fiber through the city of Beaverton, down Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway 10. They hoped to staple the new fiber cable to the existing utility poles, above ground, for $3/foot.
Unfortunately, Beaverton has an ordinance mandating that all new services will be vaulted, that is, pass through an underground tunnel large enough to accomodate future new services. Vaulting costs hundreds of dollars per foot, though in theory some of the cost can eventually be recovered from the hypothetical other new services as they come along.
Paying $10M to pass through Beaverton was far too expensive; paying $100K is not a problem. Especially irksome was that the local phone monopoly, GTE (now Verizon), was "grandfathered"; they could (and do) add big fat bundles of copper wire to the poles to move far less information (ELI's fiber cable is about an inch in diameter).
ELI petitioned the Beaverton City Council for a waiver of the ordinance, justifiably claiming that they would move far more information with far less visual clutter than existing phone wires. But GTE was powerful; the first time this was voted on, ELI lost the vote by 4 against and 1 abstention.
Then the local Washington County nerd community heard about this. Knowing that competition would lower prices and increase the variety of services, we organized a letter writing campaign and descended en masse on the next City Council meeting. The council got hundreds of letters from Beaverton residents, and about 30 of us attended the meeting (there are typically only 10 people).
This was a month before elections. You can guess what happened. We got 4 votes for ELI's petition, and one abstention (different councilor). The GTE lawyers there looked like they were pole-axed. The ELI rep looked like he had wone the lottery (and was effusively grateful for saving his company).
So how does this impact Personal Telco and public wifi?
One of the hardest parts of establishing free public wifi is getting permission to connect to public data carriers like Comcast. They write their TOS agreements to forbid sharing of bandwidth. However, they are also dependent on municipalities for permission to run their cables, and want to avoid the costs of vaulting new services.
Hence, Share the Sky. The idea is that we put pressure on the city councils for a trade: a company can avoid vaulting requirements for fiber-optic communication if it (and the companies it feeds) place no restrictions on sharing bandwidth, particularly for public wifi broadcast. They get cheaper provisioning, the public gets shared access. The company loses some hypothetical sales, the public loses some hypothetical sunlight.
If this measure is written and promoted correctly, we can get strong support from the businesses that could benefit from public wifi. A cluster of restaurants, such as the one at the corner of Beaverton Hillsdale and Jamieson near my house (McD's, Carls, Jack-in-the-Box, Orient Express) could put in one Soekris box together and share the cost of wifi, attracting lots of customers to the area. This is impossibly expensive under current rules, and only Comcast currently provides decent bandwidth to the area.
Perhaps someone with a legal mindset could come up with some language here. Remember, when these things get in front of governmental bodies, then pressure groups and lobbyists and clueless bureaucrats have a way of making a dog's breakfast out of sensible proposals. We need to write something that can survive the process. Wave the red flag at another barracade, please, let's go for something that can survive some compromises.