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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I've looked at clouds that way

The launching of the City of Portland's "free" municipal wi-fi cloud -- over some portions of the city, working some of the time -- has gotten me more closely attuned to the various internet signals that are floating around my neighborhood, and around town. In checking to see whether I could pick up the official MetroFi beam at the house (I can't; we're too far north), I discovered that I am getting a decent signal from something called "personaltelco.net." As a reader here pointed out to me, these are the folks who have been working for quite some time -- long before anyone around here ever heard of MetroFi -- to establish a free cloud over the city.

In my case, they've set up a node on the side of a neighbor's house about two blocks away, and my laptop is picking up the signal. Works great, at least up in the attic where I like to work, and the service sports no banner ads at all. Apparently the neighbor's a volunteer who has agreed to host a hot spot for all the nearby world to use. Thanks, neighbor!

I found out more about this outfit here. As their map shows, they've got quite a few locations up and running. It's a nonprofit organization that from all appearances is doing this just for the principle of the thing -- and with grassroots support from people like my neighbor. Way cool, I thought.

Then yesterday I was on a blog-related mission down at Esparza's, at SE 28th and Ankeny. (Tough duty, eh?) I thought that I was in MetroFi territory, and especially since I was keeping a close eye on Buck-a-Hit Day, I thought I'd bring the laptop along and finally get a look at how the MetroFi setup runs. Alas, the MetroFi signal was nowhere to be found. But doggone it, there was Personal Telco again, loud and clear! Connected easily, surfed breezily.

Then it dawned on me: Once again, Portland City Hall has doubtlessly put all our eggs in the wrong basket. If we're really so "progressive," why aren't we empowering truly free, ad-free, nonprofit, homegrown, grassroots wi-fi through Personal Telco, instead of getting in bed with MetroFi and its heavy-breathing business partner, Microsoft?

Comments (30)

why aren't we empowering truly free, ad-free, nonprofit, homegrown, grassroots wi-fi through Personal Telco

Because there was no mention of Personal Telco in Lyle Lanley's Powerpoint presentation. Nor in his catchy song. And if it ain't in the Powerpoint, Erik and Sam ain't interested.

If polled, I wonder how many of the five commissioners had ever even heard of Personal Telco, let alone used it prior to voting for Metro-Fi. Heck, I wonder how many have ever used it period.

They're a great service. Hopefully the don't go away.

Because someone has to PAY for Personal Telco. Right now it is coffee shops and businesses and neighbors like yours. But if you want to extend that to the entire city, you don't just say "okay, Personal Telco, go to it!" because it costs MONEY and VOLUNTEERS to provide that service.

So let's say we gave them the same amount of money we gave MetroFi: $0. How does that help Personal Telco? It doesn't. You'd have the exact same situation you have now: your neighbor, Crema (the coffee shop next door to Esparza's that was providing your signal), and others providing the same signal they provide now.

Don't get me wrong: I heart Personal Telco, and I have my own Personal Telco node for my neighbors! But if the city dumped a bunch of money on Personal Telco so that they could put a cloud over the entire city, you would almost certainly be writing a post complaining about the Stennies throwing away money on socialist dreams like free internet.

Personally, I think the city should give money to support free Internet, but given your frequent hatred of government projects like this, I don't entirely understand why you're mad that the city went with the only of the three options that cost $0.

you would almost certainly be writing a post complaining about the Stennies throwing away money on socialist dreams like free internet.

This post is not about me, o.k.?

A couple of observations:

What is the security situation when using
Personal Telco? I don't think many of the
nodes are secure.

Personal Telco has been around a while and
has had time to work out bugs. Metrofi is
new in Portland. Just give them some time
to get things spiffy.

I LIKE Personal Telco; in fact in 2005 I
bought my first PDA ever to check bus
arrivals if there was a node close to a
bus stop (and there are many!). Talk about
a killer app leading to a purchase!

Are MetroFi's nodes any more secure that Personal Telco's? I assume not, but what do I know?

Okay, but this post, as they all are on a blog, is about your opinion on the city supporting Personal Telco vs. supporting MetroFi.

What do you think the city should've done re: the wireless internet cloud? How do you think the city should've supported Personal Telco?

I meant those say that every post on a blog is about an opinion.

Not that every post on a blog is about Jack Bog's opinion on the city supporting Personal Telco vs. supporting MetroFi.

I think free wi-fi should be low, very low, on the priority list for the City of Portland. But if the municipal government is going to get involved in that endeavor -- and I have no doubt that it's spent north of $100,000 out of pocket already, not to mention giveaways of rights-of-way and such -- it should do it right. And an ugly, ad-cluttered, clunky, California-based system, poorly capitalized and with Microsoft standing in the wings, is not Portland. It's doomed to failure.

Assuming that the money must be spent, I would support an annual PDC grant of a healthy six figures to Personal Telco over what Opie signed us up for.

PersonalTelco hot-spots are just as secure as the Metro-Fi is. Which is not at all, if you want security you either need to use a secure site (HTTPS) or VPN in to a secure network.

The very first big public PersonalTelco node covered Portland's living room (Pioneer Square) and was setup in February, 2002. (Almost 5 years ago, boy how time flies.)

As far as the city knowing about PersonalTelco, they do and have for a long time, Nigel Ballard, another early PersonalTelco supporter was a driving force pushing against the city council to ensure that MetroFi provided free service, as they were only going to do 'inexpensive' WiFi over the city originally. (At least that is my understanding of events.)

As another poster noted, the city isn't paying MetroFi to provide this service, and it does cost money so MetroFi either needs to charge for it, or get paid through advertising. PersonalTelco operates on a volunteer/donation plan. Most coffee shops already have internet access for themselves, so for just the cost of some equipment they can share it with everyone around them. (The idea being to offer it as a service to bring more people in.)

Disclaimer: I helped get PersonalTelco setup as a 501(c)3 non-profit, back in the very early days, and run a node at my home for anyone to use.

What I thought MetroFi was going to be doing was installing "WiMax" nodes around Portland. WiMax = the IEEE 802.16 standard, and has a much further range than "WiFi" aka 802.11 standard wireless that you and I are currently using in our laptops. (WiFi is based on consumer cordless phone spectrum, and has roughly the same range.)

The idea being, once the WiMax stuff is set up, anyone (with a WiMax transceiver) can get WiMax anywhere, without having to be very close to a node (range being maybe 1/2 to 2 miles). Getting that kind of stuff working requires towers and right-of-ways and expensive hardware, the kind of stuff that personal telco can't really do. (PersonalTelco nodes basically run on recycled hardware that folks who happen to have a broadband connection hook up to and let the public use for free)

At least that's what I thought. So is MetroFi doing both? If they're just doing WiFi, then, we'll, we're not getting much out of it.

My understanding is that MetroFi uses just plain 802.11b (or maybe g) for client connections with 802.11a for back-haul connections. No WiMax here, keep on moving. They do however have the right-of-ways to put their ugly equipment on our light poles and traffic signals. I just wish they would at least cut the extra length of their mounting bolts so it didn't look as bad.

You can see pictures on their site here: http://www.metrofi.com/top_questions.html#item8

Universal free WiFi shouldn't be a right of the people; neither should universal free health care.

Do we have universal free electricity? Cable service? Or other utilities? What is the difference between electricity and WiFi/Internet connectivity? In reality, nothing.

What we have, is a problem with too many Socialists running things in Portland.

WiMax is a ways off for mainstream deployment. Starting next year, you will see the first laptops with combined WiFi/WiMax chipsets, meaning that they can transmit and receive both types of signals.

Personal Telco has been an excellent project funded and run out of the hearts of many. It has had little to no involvement/approval/sanctioning/knowledge of and from the likes of Sten and Sam, and it's been better off for it.

We already have multiple wireless broadband networks blanketing our city, and this MetroFi project is just another one that is really unneeded. WHat I mean is, you access the network typically when sitting somewhere, in a coffee shop, or in Pioneer Square, etc. THere are enough Personal Telco and free WiFi nodes scattered around Portland that something like MetroFi is just stupid, ridiculous and wasted money and effort.

But seeing who the project's supporters are on the city council, it's not rocket science to also just add it to the rapidly growing "boondoggle" pile of those same supporters. I'm sure that health care for all Portlanders is next, or extra taxes levied for supporting the homeless, etc.

It's gotten to the point where my wife and I, after 11 years here, are one more Portland City Council boondoggle away from selling our Irvington home and moving across the river to the more sane environs of rural Clark County.

BTW, MetroFi connectivity is spotty at best. Some computers work well with it, others don't. Personal Telco works well and seamlessly with every computer I've ever tried to connect it to, whether PC, Mac or Linux-based. MetroFi has definite work to do in that space.

And has anyone mentioned how SLOOOOOW MetroFI is?

"Universal free WiFi shouldn't be a right of the people; neither should universal free health care."

Nice set of false premises!

MetroFi connectivity is spotty at best. Some computers work well with it, others don't. Personal Telco works well and seamlessly with every computer I've ever tried to connect it to, whether PC, Mac or Linux-based.

Ironically, the concept of "works well" means nothing to the decision-makers in the "City That Works."

"No one in particular"-you are totally wrong to say that MetroFi is free, just as Jack Bog's upper post states. Do you know what the CoP charges other utilities for the use of public r.o.w.s? Or the use of utility and street light poles? That is subsidized use. It is like the city claiming that the Tram costs are "only" $70M and not including the financing cost, tax deduction allowances for the LID to help build the tram, etc. The true cost for the tram is well over $170M not including the operating/maintenance costs. Politicians and us underlings need to get real about what things really cost. The "gimmie" programs around this city hid the real costs.

Plus, the city has staff people working on the wi-fi. It ain't free by a long shot.

What do you think the city should've done re: the wireless internet cloud?

Nothing. If it was really needed, private enterprise would take care of it.

How do you think the city should've supported Personal Telco?

By staying out of it. Its the best thing they could do.

The phone company cost to supply DSL in addition to old land line service is from 7 to 10 dollars.

A 200 to 250 dollar Linux box and a 10 dollar access point is about all it takes, other than the variable cost of DSL service and a little electricity.

Someone can take the DNS IP that is delivered via the DHCP delivered IP address from my access point, then use it as the proxy address combined with the basic Squid port and then surf. I inserted Privoxy into the middle to filter stuff out and in some cases modify source files; I could use it to insert adds too, to nag a bit.

It is fast enough for neighbors to youtube, with a g not b interface.

The DSL service versus the old should be looked at in the same way as tone versus rotary dial. In time the distinction should largely vanish as the "fixed" cost for equipment has largely already been made and fully paid for, thanks to the economic thing called legalized monopoly (or a franchise agreement).

On WiMax just wait two years and get it for one tenth the cost. The chip costs are not related to manufacture but to royalties, just like when gamers pony up 500 hundred dollars for the latest and greatest video card. Heck, Intel and AMD intentionally build in SMALLER caches to hobble a CPU version so as to enable them to extract the extra bucks from folks in the richer segment of the market that just want to be the best. Do we want to have the best, IMMEDIATELY, at ten times the cost?

Demand delivery of DSL at cost, like a good little public utility should do, and the rest will sort itself out, all by itself.

Straight talk on straight facts is hardly a matter that should rise to the level of discussion of political philosophy, unless the distraction serves some economic self-interest.

If the "node on a side of a house" is the same one I know, it's ours! We've set up a mini-cloud in our neighborhood, broadcasting our signal to neighbors who then bounce it to another house (which is how my non-techie brain understands it). My husband is currently secretary of Personal Telco, and I've emailed him the link to your post, so you might hear from him. If you're curious, stop by our house sometime.

Do you know what the CoP charges other utilities for the use of public r.o.w.s?

I see your point, but still don't think it's relevant. The MetroFi thing wouldn't have happened if they hadn't given away the ROW, so it's not money the city would have taken in. If I normally charge people to get into my bar, but I let my friends in for free, that doesn't mean it cost me to let my friends in (assuming they wouldn't have come if they had to pay).

The people working on it at the city is a different matter, of course. I cede that and will stop referring to MetroFi as a $0 project.

While I'm still not necessarily agreeing that MetroFi was the right choice for this project, you all seem to be forgetting that there are legitimate uses for the city to have a wireless cloud. Providing wireless access to you and me is only one component of the program. Providing internet access for police, meter maids, etc. is potentially beneficial to the city itself.

Whether or not it's beneficial enough to justify the costs and whether or not MetroFi's cloud will be capabale enough to support these uses are valid questions. But that was part of the intent of the program. There are other reasons for the city and other governments to want a wifi cloud beyond usage for their constituents.

But by giving the ROW to MetroFi, they can't sell it to anyone else, so it is costing the city potenial income. In your example, if your bar can hold 100, and you normally charge $10/person, if you let 10 friends in for free, you are losing the potential to earn $100 because you can only let 90 paying customers in in. (Limited resources, jost like ROWs.)

I'm really surprised how far you are behind the times on this one, Jack. Anyone with passing knowledge of the Internet has known about personal telco for years.

As for your own home, spend $50 on a wireless signal booster, or just search on ebay for an antenna (watch out for the connectors--they tend to be specialized).

You'll pull in that ptp signal just fine. Pump it into a router and you'll have free wireless all over your house.

Tri msn_metrofi with a pda. Less than one/third of screen. Erik shall only be allowed a pda to use for a year, as his sentence for this torture. But it is good for brevity.

For the record, I am the one providing Jack his neighborhood wireless.

I think what the City did with the MetroFi deal was a fairly timid choice. I don't think they deserve much in the way of credit or blame. They took the option that had the least risk for the public. It might also be the one least likely to succeed, but it isn't likely to result in much taxpayer loss if it fails.

While $100k of someone elses money would be nice, and help us to do interesting projects, if Jack really thinks the Personal Telco Project is cool and worth supporting (as Secretary of the organization, I am obliged to say that it most certainly is), probably the most direct way he can do that is to help get our 501c3 status finalized. We have a filing due soon with the IRS and our current lawyers aren't doing the pro bono thing. And/or he could let us use his roof to host a repeater node. A PTP bucket truck would be sweet. The Christmas wish list can be extended on demand.

In my volunteer work with PTP, one of the things I do in addition to helping set up and manage wireless networks is to map existing wireless networks. The thing that immediately strikes anyone doing that, is the incredible density of currently deployed wireless networks. As I understand it, MetroFi plans to install something like 25 access points per square mile. On average, that means that each access point is expected to cover a radius of 600 feet. For comparison, based on my data and rough calculations, there are approximately 2650 wireless networks in the square mile centered on my home today.

The Personal Telco "business model" has been to help these people and businesses open up a wireless network for sharing. There are two obstacles to doing this: being allowed to share; and being willing to share.

By and large, the upstream providers don't like you sharing, because it threatens to cut into the demand for their service. If your neighbor is sharing his internet with you, you are less apt to call Comcast and agree to pay them $60/month. Luckily, this obstacle can usually be surmounted, because there exist ISPs via DSL that are actually okay with you sharing your wireless network. Stephouse, Easystreet, Integra Telecom, DSL-only, Speakeasy, etc. Fine, we suggest those. In places where DSL is not available (e.g. apparently St Johns), you are mostly stuck with Comcast.

BTW, one of the things the City deserves credit for is fighting the legal fight for users choice of ISP over the cable network, which would have given users a similar choice to the one they have with DSL. Comcast is pretty much "no go" territory with regard to sharing. Of course, the City lost that fight, but it was a Good Fight if you care about freedom, and I am personally glad that they tried. Without that freedom on DSL, Personal Telco wouldn't and probably couldn't exist.

The other thing that is necessary is people being willing to share. Lots of people, enough, would be willing to share, but don't understand the technology well enough to assess the moderate, manageable risks involved. Part of our mission is to help educate people about those, and help them become comfortable. It would also take a better marketing effort than the Personal Telco Project is currently mustering, even to just let people know we exist. It might also take fewer scare stories on the local news about wandering bad guys stealing your bandwidth. Hey people, they aren't stealing it if you are giving it away.

Wi-Fi, where have you been all my commentated life? I got here just in time.

Jack, there's so much tech mastery in these voice in these comments, that you could get venture capitaled eight digits in a month. Invention to follow.

The citizen richness of Workburg here, is all around you. Transceive it. You receive means you gotta give, too. Well, you give a lot in this blog, a richness profound. Global, really. But I'm beating around the bush to pattern how to say, just what the prior commenter, (Mr. Secretary), said: Why don't you 'meet-up' in Personal TelCo matters and affairs, and contribute according to ability? The main thing, the main main main main thing, is: You met your neighbors. Went around the Whole Wide World ... and met your neighbors next door. It's beautiful. The most comment is: Drop in sometime and check it out. It don't do any of us any good, out here, miles away, it ain't our neighbors, (tho' I'm a little verklept, pardon me, it's so romantic, it's just, it's just, so absolutely pastoral, so neighborhoodiness, pardon me ...), but, Jack, it's. just. the. bottom. line:
Whose yer neighb'?

(It's actually a West Coast thing, however likely you might dispute that.)

Microsoft and the City of Portland have demanded that even free users of the service agree to terms, contract terms, as a precondition to ANY further delivery of service. This instantly converts that which is public in that which is a private service. The hallmark element of a property right being the right to exclude others from one's own property.

That, in one fell swoop should fully dispense with the notion that metrofi is public. It is not. Period.

Now on to the next issue. Such private radio waves do not stay within the confines of any public right of way but traverse other people's property, just as with any nuisance noise or oder that is actionable under property law.

I want to locate someone with a radio frequency jammer the can emit it's beautiful noise from private land near any adjoining metrofi noise emitter.

If $icrosoft wants to play hard ball, just as with their oddball DSL contract term to enable them to go on a phishing expedition on a users computer at $icrosoft's whim, then let them find a way to legally stop a private person's competing transmission of noise so as to disrupt the delivery of the metrofi, private metrofi, public-private partnership metrofi, waves of anything-but-free. It is like me saying to my neighbor that the smoke from my illegal burn barrel is free, or that the sound of a my 67 Charger's squealing tires is free, just as with any sound from PIR.

The City of Portland could just as well try to ban analogue service. Leaving only digital in it's place, or nothing at all, and thus we would surely find some willing franchise partner to accept such terms at no more than a reasonable profit. Try pigeon holing that one into the full set of laws for unregulated services that are found in the state laws as well as in the the federal laws; in the name of competition and the benefits to be derived from competition. Digital or nothing , that's the ticket. At less than 20 bucks per month. And stripped of any local franchise fees from the local governments, in the interest of affordability. THEY NEED the continuation of analogue service so as to segment the market, with the aid of the hoky poky joky folks in city hall.

(I had a dry piece on monopoly and economic rent, but it just does not suit these pages.)

Analogue has a future. In a skit! A future like that of the Ruth Buzzy switchboard operator character: "Is this the party to whom I am speaking." Such illogic was once instantly funny but today passes as valid public policy worthy of serious extended discussion and money, like a skit all it's own.


Thanks, Russell, for the lowdown. I will definitely be looking into this in more detail after the holidays.

Wasn't that Lily Tomlin's, 'Ernestine,' the switchboard operator? I work for the phony Companyfuture -- I don't know, 'cause I don't have to.

In keeping with the "looking into this" spirit of a new year's birth -- another December, another Capricorn ingress -- what does it look like if this Wi-Fi discussion is taken out of last year's (century's?) context, and put in next year's context: No cars.

New German Community Models Car-free Living, by Isabelle de Pommereau, Published on Thursday, December 21, 2006, by the Christian Science Monitor.

It's pickup time at the Vauban kindergarten here at the edge of the Black Forest, but there's not a single minivan waiting for the kids. Instead, a convoy of helmet-donning moms - bicycle trailers in tow - pedal up to the entrance.

Welcome to Germany's best-known environmentally friendly neighborhood and a successful experiment in green urban living. The Vauban development ... has put into practice many ideas that were once dismissed as eco-fantasy but which are now moving to the center of public policy.

The Vauban neighborhood in Freiburg, Germany, is ... a model sustainable district ... a former military base. Many of the houses produce more energy than they use. Other buildings are heated by a neighborhood-scale combined heat and power station burning wood chips.
With gas prices well above $6 per gallon across much of the continent, ...
We may look at cars from both sides now,
From here and gone, from go and stop,
Is it cars' illusions we recall?
Or could we really? not know cars at all.

My dog wants Universal Free Liver Treats.

In little bite size mailman shapes.

Anatomically correct mailmen. Grrrrr.

"In places where DSL is not available (e.g. apparently St Johns), you are mostly stuck with Comcast."

Stephouse also provides a wireless alternative broadband services in St. Johns where DSL is not available for much less than Comcast.

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