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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Own a piece of history

Want some memorabilia that sums up the insanity of the Erik Sten Era perfectly? It's yours, here, not cheap.

Comments (23)

The article you cite says:

"By hiring MetroFi to take on the project, Portland shifted the project's financial risk to its private partner. Portland's risk is mainly cosmetic: The city hasn't committed to pay a dime for Web access, and if the network fails to meet expectations, the cost to taxpayers will be minimal."

What are you complaining about, exactly?

The $250,000-plus the city spent on a project that was going nowhere right from the beginning.

Note that the ebay sale is for one device, despite the rows of devices in the photo. MetroFi has about 1900 SkyPilots in their networks, about 675 in Portland alone. I wildly speculate that maybe this auction is actually related to negotiating a "fair" price for some mystery wholesale buyer.

It looks as though they haven't been doing eBay for very long. Nor do there appear to be any bidders willing to pay their reserve price (a reserve being the kiss of death for most eBay auctions that I've ever watched).

It seems surreal to be defending this project, but my goodness. What is the payroll of Portland's city government? What was spent on street maintenance or water infrastructure over the N years over which the $250k of the Unwire Portland project was spent? Does it remotely show up on the radar? Honestly, it doesn't seem to warrant your indignation, compared for example to the criminal waste perpetrated in Iraq. For what we are currently spending on murder and kidnapping to destabilize the Iranian government, we could have publicly-owned fiber to the premises infrastructure throughout Portland, free and clear.

"We waste so much money on other cr*p -- what's another $[fill in the amount]?" That's classic Portland City Hall. In case you haven't noticed, we're going broke. Time to stop with the frills.

Besides, there's more to this than the money. Like I say, it's a monument to the screwed-up priorities of Portland government. Text-messaging traffic reports to people's cell phones is the next one. It goes on and on.

I know you love wi-fi. I do, too. But the taxpayers shouldn't be paying bureaucrats in city government to make it happen. They should just have written a grant for the $250K to Personal Telco, which they could have done easily.

I really don't think this has anything to do with Iraq, but that's a waste of money, too. Unlike Bush, however, the city can't print money. It has to collect it from you and me.

I don't assume that the $2.2 billion/year the city government spends is necessarily wasted on crap. It seems like if you were serious about reducing waste you'd look somewhere other than the line item that represents one thousandth of one percent of the budget.

Even if the city gave $250k to Personal Telco Project (which as a officer of that group, I am obliged to say would automatically be a good idea), they would spend some money to ensure the grant requirements were fulfilled and not wasted on PTP meeting refreshments (although I am obliged to say that that would automatically be a good idea too).

Also, don't assume I love wifi, just because it's the most effective mechanism at my disposal at this moment to create the networking world I want to live in. It is inadequate, but it's what I can utilize today. The enemy is unregulated (or under-regulated, or misregulated) concentrated private ownership of network infrastructure. Wifi has some very limited capability to route around that damage. Better tools are desperately needed.

"The enemy is unregulated (or under-regulated, or misregulated) concentrated private ownership of network infrastructure."

Actually, I don't see the problem. My internet connection, along with tens of thousands of others, has gone down for one hour in the past six years and I'm charged a very fair rate. I highly doubt the City of Portland could provide the same level of service, no matter what they charged. I'm happy, the business is happy, seems the only people who are unhappy is those coming up with all these stupid socialist ideas. Obviously we're giving these people too much of our money if they're just going to waste it.

Forgive me, but

You write:

"[...] But the taxpayers shouldn't be paying bureaucrats in city government to make it happen. [...]"

What should taxpayers be paying bureacrats in city government to do? What is the fundamental principle that you would apply that excludes this particular thing and includes others? If you can state the principle, then we can either agree or disagree. But if it's just "Jack likes this" and "Jack doesn't like that" it seems kind of arbitrary and incoherent.

Joey Link,

I assume your distrust of government services extends to water (you flush your toilet and wash your clothes with bottled water) and transportation (you pay your neighbors to walk through their backyards rather than utilize the socialist roadways). Yeah, government can't do anything right.

The item pictured looks as some sort of surgical implant device and the taper suggests a specific use.

"Survey after survey shows American broadband quality and access falling perilously behind countries in Europe and Asia. Getting everyone connected to an open Internet should be a national priority." from media reform. The unanswered fees allowed to telephone cos[ call forwarding, hold, etc.etc].. was to be escrowed for the purpose of bringing fiber-optics to every home in America. Where did the money go? No one seems to know.
So in the meantime I agree with Russell, we do need Wi-Fi and it must be cheap enough for lower class income people to have full access.
I also agree with Jack that the city must be more prudent when going into these ventures...something they do not do.

It really is too bad it didn't work out though. Better planning was needed, as the service was pretty crummy. Had we waited for something better to come along, maybe it would have been better.

Wow, I wonder what the reserve price is?? Looks like 6 bidders with 20 bids between them. They've raised the ante to $710 and it's still not enough with 3+ hours to go.

By the way, the bidders in this auction have the weirdest eBay user names I've ever seen.

It seems surreal to be defending this project, but my goodness. What is the payroll of Portland's city government? What was spent on street maintenance or water infrastructure over the N years over which the $250k of the Unwire Portland project was spent?

Ever heard of the little citywide private project known as Personal Telco?

CoPo was simply getting involved in something that was already a happening thing - and spending our cash to do it. $250,000 may not seem like a lot to you, Mr. Gates, but it is to me. And as the late, great Senator Everett Dirksen might have said:

A quarter million here, a quarter million there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.

And, why just yesterday I was reading that Sammy Adams managed to get CoPo to shunt nearly half a mil to ODOT to develop a "text messaging" system.

Government has limited legitimate purposes, such as providing police and fire protection, and safe roads.

They have no business in wi-fi, texting, and similar frivolities.

Sorry, guess you have heard of it.


Russell asked BoJack to answer the question, What should taxpayers be paying bureacrats in city government to do? I can't speak for Jack, but here's my answer: City tax dollars should be spent on the following, in the following order of priority:
1) traditional city services that almost everyone agrees are and should be provided by the city (such as police and fire protection, building and maintaining roads and other public property, and water and sewage) should be well-funded; 2) projects that benefit the public generally, not just some well-connected or vocal subset of the public, should be funded by the city if a) there is money left over after fully handling 1 above, b) no private business would undertake the project on its own without city funding (in general, things like roads would be a good example of this; internet connectivity would not), c) the quantifiable financial benefit of the project to the public generally exceeds a real (not fantasy-land estimate) of its cost (so a new bridge over the Columbia probably meets this requirement at some level of cost, but not at any possible cost), and d) the thing being funded is within the legal and constitutional authority of the city, and
3) other services within the city's legal power to provide if the elected city council approves them, and there is sufficient tax money left after well funding the items in a and b above, and their cost doesn't extend beyond the current year's financial resources, but this is the most dangerous area, because personally, I would usually prefer a reduction in my taxes to the kind of things the Portland City Council usually would choose to fund under this category.
That's my crack at an answer.


"we could have publicly-owned fiber to the premises infrastructure throughout Portland, free and clear."

The absolute LAST thing that this city government needs to be doing is learning how to be a telco. Yes, Fiber-to-the-premises would be all nice and everything, but we're already supposed to have it due to the $200 billion paid in excise taxes to the telcos since passing the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Funny how there's no congressional hearings on where that money went...

But if it's just "Jack likes this" and "Jack doesn't like that" it seems kind of arbitrary and incoherent.

You know, I went to bed before that was written, but it proves what an argumentative so-and-so I was dealing with. It doesn't speak well of Personal Telco, Russell Senior's pet project, at all.

The City of Portland needs to stick to the first two categories of items identified by Bob, who put it rather well, I thought.

If you can't see the difference between adequate police training, a mental health system, and decent road maintenance on the one hand (none of which Portland currently has), and "free internet for all" on the other (which it will stop at nothing to try to create), I can't help you.

I argue with people who are wrong, as far as I can tell, in order to help both of us to be right in the future. To not argue in that situation is rude.

The City of Portland's duty is to serve the interests of its citizens, what ever that takes.

I was not "in favor" of (nor actively against, for that matter) the Unwire Portland project. It did not address the Personal Telco Project goals, which are, in a nutshell, to empower people to operate their own networks, and to share them if they want to. I also am not in favor of "free internet for all" (not sure where you got that idea).

I am in favor of a publicly-owned fiber-to-the-premises infrastructure that users pay for, like they do for their water service. I don't want the taxpayers to pay a dime for it, just like they didn't pay a dime of tax money for their water service. Water service is paid for by rate payers, and I want the same system for a fiber network. I don't care if the city operates it, or some non-profit third party, but it should be operated on a cost-recovery basis and be open to all services on a non-discriminatory basis.

I want the freedom that a public system can guarantee, like they guarantee the freedom to use a public transportation infrastructure like streets and the interstate highways. In contrast, I do not have the freedom to use a private transportation infrastructure like the railroads. To use that system, I need to beg the railroad's private owner and pay whatever they ask and to submit to whatever arbitrary terms they demand. The history of railroad robber barons is analogous to the situation we are in with telecommunications today. It sucks. It doesn't serve the public interests. It is perfectly reasonable for the city to act in the public's interest, and it is my opinion, for the reasons I have outlined above, that a fiber system would be in the public's interest.

KISS says:

"I also agree with Jack that the city must be more prudent when going into these ventures...something they do not do."

But you see, the money the city did spend was exactly on trying to be prudent. All that $250k was spent on oversight, about half was for consultants to provide technical advice on the specifics of the RFP and about half was spent on the project managers salary to see that the operator and the City fulfilled their various obligations under their agreement.

Being more prudent would have cost more money, not less. Jack isn't arguing for more prudence, he's arguing for different priorities. I am mostly arguing about one one-thousandth of one percent of the City Budget being a worthy focus of his ire.

But, it is his ire. I guess he can use it as he wishes.

I don't really care that much one way or the other about the MetroFi deal. It was one small but typical incident in a long era of institutional stupidity under Vera Katz and Erik Sten. An era which is being extended now under Sam Adams and Randy Leonard. If you think those two are going to bring fiber to your house -- without screwing it up in a major, major way -- you haven't been paying attention.

"... but it proves what an argumentative so-and-so I was dealing with. It doesn't speak well of Personal Telco..."

For someone as experienced at blogging as you are I never ceased to be amazed at the shortness of your fuse. I thought his comment was informative and a bit amusing.

Even if he was a jerk, your readiness to dismiss his entire viewpoint and anything associated with him due to a rude comment on your bog seems a bit weird...

"The City of Portland needs to stick to the first two categories of items identified by Bob, who put it rather well, I thought."

Yes, he did. The point of the original commenter was that you did not. He asked for a simple guideline, and did not try to stir an argument of wi-fi vs. police services, that was all you.


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