Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"Intel throws weight behind US municipal metrozones"

For those of us following the wireless side of the muni broadband issue the Register runs a story that has some local implications. The Register runs a interesting story about growing support for "metrozones" (apparently a European term for municipal wireless). The Register's reporting can be spotty but this is one of its good articles, written by someone who clearly understands both the underlying technology (e.g. WiMax's current limits) and the importance of political issues. It overviews concerns about technologies, costs and legal restrictions. (For the wary reader: the concerns in the case of muni wireless can be real and real research by commercial but reputable research firms are the basis. Wireless is not as cheap as some of its proponents, consultants, and the hardware resellers have sometimes said.)
Intel has taken a keen interest in the burgeoning market for "digital cities" -- metro areas blanketed in broadband wireless coverage, sometimes privately run, increasingly frequently supported by municipal authorities. It is now stepping up its activities to promote these deployments, seeing them as a key early market not just for Wi-Fi but also for WiMAX, and therefore a means to gain ubiquity for the technologies that is stands the best chance of dominating. Support from influential players, combined with the increasingly flexible approach of the world's regulators, could put core telecoms activities once again into the hands of the public sector...

As well as offering free consultancy, Intel sometimes helps fund municipal roll-outs, such as Houston, Georgia, which claims it will be the first "WiMAX county"...
What might prove most important for municipal broadband, however, is that Intel has decided to openly promote municipal broadband in the corridors of power. A similar move by Dell Computer in Texas is credited with turning the tide on extending Texas' munibroadband restrictions to WiFi and WiMax.
...it is using its lobbying power to counter anti-municipal legislation. "They've been a great ally," said Jim Baller, a Washington, DC attorney who was in the forefront of pro-municipality lobbying. "They have written statements of support; they have sent people out into the hallways; they have rallied support among the other members of the high technology industries."Intel is now supporting a Congress bill introduced by the Republican Senator for Arizona, John McCain, promoting local authorities' rights to launch wireless networks in direct competition with incumbent telcos. The Community Broadband Act of 2005 adds provisions to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to allow a municipality to offer high speed access to its citizens. If you'll read through the story you'll see that Intel is unabashed in admitting that its motives are self-interested: it hopes to drive the WiMax chip market in the same way that it now drives the pc processor market. Still, the break in the corporate ranks is heartening. All too often a business simply won't speak up, no matter how much it and the communities it serves would benefit, if even one corporation would be damaged. (We saw a touch of this syndrome early on in Lafayette but eventually got over it.) Overall businesses should back muni broadband --it means the development of new markets and expanded demand for services. Almost all businesses and every local economy will benefit.
As lagniappe (though, sadly, this British-based site does not use the concept) the story gives us a mini-story on the possibility being considered in Britian that portions of newly available spectrum, a public resource, be reserved for local, public, use. Shocking concept, that. Apparently the hope is that local bodies can use the spectrum as they see fit--most likely to provide the equivalent of municipal cell phone service.

The US is trying hard to free up some spectrum but the plan is to sell it commercially in hopes that putting it into private hands will spur more and more useful product. Allow me to dissent from the idea that this is obviously the best idea. Consider: Cell Phone companies have fallen into the pattern of their Telephone company big brothers: they've grown, not through service and innovation but by consolidation; by pouring their profit not into research and network construction but into buying, at a hefty premium their competitors. Why encourage these guys? Where has the innovation and explosive economic growth in the wireless sector actually come from? Not the cell phone guys. (Sorry, I just can't count making ringtones into a profit center as innovation.) Its all come from unlicensed "trash" spectrum, spectrum that they, that no corporation owns: spectrum that we can all use for free. Wifi not some 3G, 3D, EVDO, thingy is what is driving the wireless expansion. Let's give a hefty chunk to that..and low power radio...and, yes, some to communities to organize for specifically community level needs--like wireless broadband and municipal cell phones. Such community-owned, licensed spectrum would be free from predatory practices and crowding by commercial competitors in the unlicensed spectrum. (Don't think BellSouth would do such a thing? Wouldn't attempt to wreck the competition by any means that came to hand? Surely, cher, you jest. Where were you during the last year?)


Anonymous said...


Beware of Greeks that carry presents. Intel is interested in stalling fixed line (i.e. FttX) networks, in order to have its wireless CPU's get a strong market share.

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