St. Cloud Muni System Saved by Citizen Users — “Waste” or “Success.”

As reported by Esme Vos at Munireless, the St. Cloud Muniwireless system has been granted a reprieve. In an effort to lower municipal costs to avoid raising taxes, the town council voted on September 30 to shut down the wireless network. At a city council meeting two days later, a crowd of local residents showed up to protest the decision, resulting in a 120-day extension to reexamine the question.

St. Cloud’s political fight over its municipal wireless network cuts to the heart of one of the core debates in the national broadband plan. Do we regard connectivity as a service on the same level as schools, sewage, and public transportation — where we expect the city to subsidize the service because it provides needed social benefits? Or do we insist that we only provide broadband where it can pay for itself on a going forward basis (after some initial stimulus money to get the network built and get the ball rolling)? There is no doubt that for a city of 30,000, a fair number of people use the St. Cloud wireless network (at least 8500 unique connections/month) and enough regard it as sufficiently important to lobby their city council to keep the network in the face of a financial shortfall. At the same time, no one argues with the fact that the network costs the city $30K/month and seems likely to do so for the foreseeable future.

So how do we measure waste or success? I’ve argued on more than one occasion that we should look on these networks as the equivalent of a public transportation system. They don’t compete with cabs or car sales despite the fact that many people rely on them to avoid driving. In fact, cabs and auto dealers benefit because public transportation systems because they keep traffic manageable. And, as the iPhone and other smartphones continue to increase the demand for spectrum for data traffic, licensed wireless operators like AT&T are finding it beneficial to encourage customers to use wifi hotspots and offload the traffic whereas previously carriers resisted letting customers use wifi at all.

We have until February to debate how we want to incorporate this into our national broadband plan. Broadband as utility — where we encourage local governments to offer services like St. Cloud for the positive externalities for everyone even if it requires continuing subsidy? Or does it only make sense to have municipal broadband where it can pay for itself? With the final decision on St. Cloud now due in January 2010 — a month before the National Broadband Plan — it will be very interesting to see what the citizens of St. Cloud and their local government decide.

Stay tuned . . . .

Blog Tagged by Susan Crawford

On Live Journal, we’d call this a meme. I usually don’t play, but how can I resist an invitation from Susan Crawford? In addition to running a fantastic and informative blog of her own, Susan is a member of the Board of Directors at ICANN and on the faculty of Cardozo Law School (Official motto: “With This Many Jews, How Did We Rank So Low In U.S. News & World Report? Goyishe Kop!”)

In any event, Susan has tagged me with the following meme:

“Post five things most people don’t know about you, and then tag five more people.”

I tag Sascha Meinrath, Esme Vos, David Isenberg, Tim Karr and Art Brodsky. My answers below.

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Yet Another Amazing Esme Conference Comes To a Close

Sorry to go dark for so long. As future posts will explain, it’s been a busy time and likely to get busier.

One thing keeping me busy has been my presence here at Esme’s latest conference on muniwireless broadband. In addition to time with the fabulous Esme herself a number of very cool people are also here.

The conference has morphed quite a bit since I attended the first one below. My brief reflections (and what it means for the muniwireless industry generally) below.

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Yet Another Amazing Esme Conference

Regular readers will know that I have tremendous respect and regard for Esme Vos and her website. So I’m pleased and delighted to attend her upcomming conference June 19-21 in Santa Clara, CA: “Building the Muniwireless Ecosystem.”

What makes Esme’s conferences rock (other than her continuing to have me back) is:

(a) Each conference has a new program about 6 months ahead of the “conventional wisdom.” Esme doesn’t just take one conference on the road. Each conference has new program items, new speakers and new insights that folks who don’t attend will have to wait 6 months to read about in the trade journals.

(b) Esme doesn’t just invite industry reps or big names. She reaches out to community organizers, innovators, and others to provide a real diversity of views.

(c) Vendor parties with open bars.

You can still register at the “early bird” discount rate until June 5. Click here to see a schedule of programming items that should convince you why you need to go. Then click here to register. The two conferences I’ve attended have both oversold, so register quickly if you don’t want to miss the fun.

Stay tuned . . . .

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Ohio the New PA? I don't think so.

It appears to be my day to pick on poor Esme at the truly amazing and wonderful Muniwireless website. Recently, she published this article on Ohio House Bill 591. Esme and others think it is the next in a series of bills like the recent HB 30 signed into law by Governor Rendell. Me, I’m not so sure. My analysis of Ohio’s 591 (and why, even if stupid, it is not evil) below.

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