Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Working WiFi in a little town in Pennsylvania

I posted on Kutztown earlier in "It's working in a little town in Pennsylvania" touting the ways in which Kutztown utility's fiber-optic competition had driven down the prices private providers charged for broadband access by almost 50%, how its electrical utility had kept property taxes from rising for 70 years, saved the residents of the small town have saved $400,000 dollars in telecom (over) charges over the last 3 years. That's real wealth for a picturesque small town in the Amish region of Pennsylvania.

Well, its still working and Kutztown is again showing the way: it is leveraging its fiber optic network to provide its town with what will be the first, and probably the only publicly-owned Wi-Fi net in Pennsylvania. The local paper tells the story well:
The borough of Kutztown is planning to install a wireless computer network that could be the first and only municipal Wi-Fi system in Pennsylvania.

While Kutztown is announcing its Wi-Fi project much later than Philadelphia and Bethlehem, it will probably complete its system first, and it will be the only system of the three that is completely run by a municipality.
Success breeds success. A successful, ubiquitous fiber-optic network makes the addition of a wireless cloud much, much easier--and cheaper--than it would be without that infrastructure. It also means that the wireless cloud Kutztown builds need not be crippled by sharing cheap, low bandwidth between many users -- a unacknowledged problem for most municipal systems. Kurtztown will be in a position to take full advantage of the rated speeds of WiFi equipment; something you cannot do if each node is supplied with a small fraction of the bandwidth it could carry. (supplying a 54 meg wifi node with 1.5 megs of backhaul connection does not--as some folks seem to assume--transform 1.5 megs into 54.)

Kutztown, like Lafayette has a history of going its own way. I understand the folks over at the Advocate sometimes, affectionately, refer to Lafayette's go its own way tendencies as being another example of "Crazy Lafayette." I imagine that Kutztown's neighbors have a similar description for their tendencies as well.
Kutztown has a history of being at the forefront.

It is the only town in Pennsylvania that is covered in its entirety by a fiber-optic network that provides high-speed Internet access, phone service and television.

The borough of 5,000 residents is also one of a few towns to run its own electrical utility. And Kutztown was one of the first communities in Pennsylvania to install sewers to private homes in 1940.

''They are an amazing little borough, I have learned now that I've worked with them for a couple of years,'' said Dennis Dunn, owner of Sacony Commons, a student apartment building that will be one of Kutztown's first Wi-Fi customers. ''People think it's an old Pennsylvania Dutch town, and it is, but they are also pretty high-tech.''
But Kutztown in ├╝ber conservative* Amish country is running up against restrictions passed at phone giant Verizion's request: it has to build a system before a deadline which would effectively restrict other municipalities from every following its attractive lead.
Kutztown is eager to get its municipal Wi-Fi system up and running before the end of the year because legislation will impose restrictions on municipal telecommunications systems beginning Jan. 1. Under pressure from telephone and cable providers, Pennsylvania passed a law last year that prohibits municipalities from selling telecommunications services. The law stipulates cities that are setting up networks before the moratorium must have one paying customer before the end of this year.
Kutztown is pretty clear about why they are doing it:
''We want our residents to [be] a notch ahead of everybody,'' Dunn said. ''It is another amenity for our property, and frankly, we think it's the future.''
Doesn't that sound familiar? It is working in a little town in Pennsylvania.


*[On the issue of "conservative" communities being in the forefront of fiber optic builds that defy the telecom giants: notice that Kutztown and Provo are also in areas that are know not so much for their conservatism but for their religiously-based communities. The Amish and the Mormons are used to being different and are used to relying on their communities to get by. They don't like relying on corporations whose motives may differ radically from those of the community. While Lafayette's conservatism appears to be more conventional it is surely true that the creole and cajun communities that comprise the core of Lafayette's identity are similarly used to going their own way and to preferring to provide for themselves rather than rely on outsiders with dubious motives. I wonder if community-based conservativism, rather than the radically individual selfishness touted by much of what passes for conservativism these days isn't actually a pretty fertile ground for community-based self-help.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it sure heck is pretty interesting what kutztown has down. i'm a resident student and get my service from them. i hate religious conservatives but to me this is more like socialism then conservatism. The residents and even students at the college seem very conservative to me. Then again just about anyone seems conservative to me.