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EarthLink Says No Future for Municipal Wi-Fi

CowboyNeal posted more than 7 years ago | from the well-not-with-that-attitude dept.

Wireless Networking 126

Glenn Fleishman writes "EarthLink dropped its final bombshell on city-wide Wi-Fi, saying that it wouldn't put more money in and was talking to their current deployed cities about the future. The company had won bids in dozens of cities, and then backed out of the majority of them before building or finalizing contracts a few months ago. The remaining towns they were building out, like New Orleans, Anaheim, and Philadelphia, will ostensibly be turned off unless local officials come up with scratch or a plan of their own. EarthLink pioneered the model of free-for-fee networks, where there would be no cost or upfront commitment from cities, and EarthLink would charge for network access. Apparently, you can't make money that way."

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Silly Earthlink (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21389643)

Just because something doesn't have a future doesn't mean you can't make boatloads of cash today.

Obviously, it needs to be open-source/GPLed (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390203)

Obviously, it needs to be open-source/GPLed for it to work. If you want to make money, you have to give it away; first and formost - it has to be free !! Silly Earthlink indeed. When will they ever learn ?? War is peace !! Freedom is Slavery !! Ignorance is Strength !!

Re:Obviously, it needs to be open-source/GPLed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21391031)

Fuck you and the hoarse you rode in on. Lozzzzzzer

Good (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21389659)

Wi-fi was not designed for this type of situation. It's great for small places, but not city wide. Does it even matter anyway when most places offer free wi-fi?

Wait for wi-max or something similar.

city-wide wifi has its uses (5, Informative)

erlehmann (1045500) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389863)

for example in the eastern part of germany, after reunification, there were lines in cities that could not be used for DSL. the german "freifunk" (literally "free wireless", both as in beer and as in speech) project managed to build some sizeable city mesh nets using a routing protocol known as OLSR [1,2].

just look in awe at the leipzig cloud [3]. also, try to imagine wireless cell phone / pda mesh nets (probably doable right now with openmoko).

[1] http://olsr.org/ [olsr.org]
[2] http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3626.txt [ietf.org]
[3] http://db.leipzig.freifunk.net/uptime/png/ [freifunk.net] -- careful, images is 3165x4206

Re:city-wide wifi has its uses (2, Funny)

hey (83763) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390293)

Nice to see footnotes in a Slashdot posting.

Re:city-wide wifi has its uses (4, Informative)

fireboy1919 (257783) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390647)

using a routing protocol known as

You're kind of missing the point in this example. Citywide 802.11x is not going to work. The protocol can't handle it. It doesn't scale up to even 100 users at once.

The obvious solution is to use some other protocol.

Re:city-wide wifi has its uses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21391053)

it can handle X number per access point. Thus, the mesh network he mentioned would work as long as signal interference didn't become a factor.

Re:city-wide wifi has its uses (1)

Raideen (975130) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391671)

You're kind of missing the point in this example. Citywide 802.11x is not going to work. The protocol can't handle it. It doesn't scale up to even 100 users at once.

The obvious solution is to use some other protocol.

It's not like they're putting up one AP with a huge antenna. The major cost and limitation of a municipal WiFi network is obviously AP deployment. The obvious solution then is to reduce the number of APs required in order to make it more practical. That might include using a different protocol, but it could also mean implementing a different network topology such as a mesh network that requires a different routing protocol over the same transmission protocol just like the GP mentioned.

less or more? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21392259)

Fewer APs or more? If every user was also an AP and router, the more connected people would result in a better mesh.

Fucked again by Public Private Partnerships. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390169)

This is yet another example of the general public being fucked over by a so-called P3: Public Private Partnership.

The idea is that instead of the municipal government setting up an organization to perform a specific project, they basically contract out the job to private firms. Supposedly this will lead to more economical and better quality service. Instead, what we've seen time and time and time again, is nothing but higher prices, and far shittier service.

Then we get cases like this, where the private interest just pulls out of the deal when it's no longer profitable for them. Of course, it doesn't matter that they've fucked over the community. A lot of the time these companies have little to no ties with the community they are servicing, so leaving the public there high and dry causes these private firms little grief.

Re:Good (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390185)

It's great for small places, but not city wide.

Tell that to WA Freenet [e3.com.au] .

The basic idea of offering Internet access as a public service is sound. The problem is that cities haven't thought of the Internet as a form of public infrastructure that--like subway lines, sewers, or roads--must be paid for. Instead, cities have labored under the illusion that, somehow, everything could be built easily and for free by private parties.

Re:Good (1)

Tekneek74 (990486) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390815)

A company that has to answer to Wall Street financial analysts will not be able to do this work, that much has been demonstrated clearly.

Re:Good (1)

utopianfiat (774016) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391067)

Are you joking? If I'm on a bus in Amsterdam, I can whip out my iPhone and start using the internet for 15 euros per month. That's pretty freaking amazing considering that doesn't come anywhere near what I pay for residential service in the states.

Unnecessary (0)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389671)

City-wide wifi might be a benefit to smaller towns, but in the world's larger municipal areas, there are no so many home networks left open that one can just use whatever is nearby.

Re:Unnecessary (2, Insightful)

Professor_UNIX (867045) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389755)

Do you just walk into random houses and use their computer or phone whenever you feel like it as well?

Re:Unnecessary (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389963)

If there's a sign in front of the house that says "come on in and use my phone for free" I won't think twice about it. You don't HAVE to broadcast that your net is available.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

xouumalperxe (815707) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390043)

Non-argument. Wifi routers usually come wide open by default and non-technical people don't usually know how to go about locking them down or hiding them. Not quite the same as your front door.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

zotz (3951) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391007)

Then blame the manufacturers.

And then blame the standards bodies as well.

There needs to be a reliable, automatic, technical way to let people know it is ok tou use your wifi.

People who want to use the only way available, so as things stand, blame the manufacturers for having this as the default as well.

The standards bodies could have forseen this and had a seperate open and not-open broadcast...

all the best,


Re:Unnecessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21391083)

Incorrect. Linksys at least, now ships their routers with the radio off, and stickers telling you to run the setup CD first. It takes actual effort to configure the router to be open now.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

Eddi3 (1046882) | more than 7 years ago | (#21392941)

If you bought a house, and on the house was a sign that said "Come on in and use my phone for free," wouldn't you take it down if you didn't want people doing that?

Re:Unnecessary (2, Insightful)

Ron_Fitzgerald (1101005) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390053)

If their music radio was playing loud enough that I could hear it, should I still ask permission to listen?

Re:Unnecessary (1)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390181)

Amusingly enough, the owners of the device should be paying broadcast fees to the RIAA equivlent of the broadcasters.

It's a fucked up law.

Re:Unnecessary (2, Funny)

Ron_Fitzgerald (1101005) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390277)

Maybe that is how to stop the vehicles driving by blasting music way too loud. Threaten them with a RIAA lawsuit.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

Scarletdown (886459) | more than 7 years ago | (#21392691)

Maybe that is how to stop the vehicles driving by blasting music way too loud. Threaten them with a RIAA lawsuit.

So I'm not the only one who has thought of that, hmm? Anyone else ever found themselves wishing for a handheld EMP generator to deal with those rolling boom boxes, if such a device were possible? I'm also going to lobby Congress to legalize Sidewinder missiles for personal use on the highways...at least for my personal use. :)

Re:Unnecessary (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390187)

Do you just walk into random houses and use their computer or phone whenever you feel like it as well?

Do you ask permission to use a drinking fountain? You know water isn't free.

Re:Unnecessary (2, Insightful)

macaddict (91085) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390477)

Do you ask permission to use a drinking fountain? You know water isn't free.

Except drinking fountains are the equivalent of municipal wi-fi -- paid for by taxes to benefit the public, or provided inside a publicly accessible building for the benefit of visitors. Unless it's in a private, non-publicly accessible building, they are generally understood to be available to anyone, with the cost of the water provided to strangers being willingly paid for by the owner.

I think the example you're looking for is: "Do you ask permission to hook your hose up to your neighbor's faucet to water your lawn? You know water isn't free."

Re:Unnecessary (1)

Tekneek74 (990486) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390853)

An open network with no authentication scheme or other access restrictions invites usage. This is different than cracking their WEP password scheme or forging a MAC address. Those are the equivalents of breaking in and taking something not freely offered. A wide open network is offering free access. You have to ask permission to physically be on their property, but if you can access it from your own property or other public area then you should be fine.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

macaddict (91085) | more than 7 years ago | (#21392999)

I wasn't getting into the ethics of using private open wi-fi networks. I was pointing out the stupidity of using 'Do you ask permission to use a drinking fountain. Water isn't free." as a rebuttal to the example of walking into someone's house and using their telephone without permission. To keep the water analogy, I pointed out that using someone's telephone without permission is the same as using their outdoor faucet. It is not the same as using a public drinking fountain. A drinking fountain is the same as a municipal network--meant to be publicly available and no permission required--so cannot be compared to using home telephones or private open wi-fi networks.

Re:Unnecessary (5, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390595)

Time for analogy wars!

Do you just walk into random houses and use their computer or phone whenever you feel like it as well?

Yes, I do, if the computer/home has all of the the following attributes:

-There's a big sign outside that says "computer in here" (access points advertise their presence)
-There's an instruction set outside the house that says "To access the computer, rotate the knob on this door and push forward. Walk into home, then enter second room on right. Press power button, wait for authorization, and then use." (access points tell you how to use them)
-After pressing the power button, a message says "request for computer use received ... access granted" (access points must receive a request for use, and then grant permission)

Re:Unnecessary (1)

MadnessASAP (1052274) | more than 7 years ago | (#21392943)

Well my analogy features Lotus notes and a machine gun.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

dgp (11045) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391631)

if someone's livingroom lamp happened to be bright enough to illuminate part of the sidewalk, and if someone is walking down the sidewalk and takes out a piece of paper to read in the light, is that 'stealing'?

Re:Unnecessary (1)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389775)

Have you ever actually looked for any? I have. I went war walking with my Nokia 770 this week, in the first-world municipal area where I live (Sheffield, UK). Either reports of open wireless networks all over the place are greatly exaggerated or the people of Sheffield are unusually security conscious. So far, other than intentionally open networks, I've only found one unencrypted network and that wouldn't give me an IP address. I only walked a mile or so through mostly residential streets, but it certainly gives lie to the notion that you can just "use whatever is nearby".

Re:Unnecessary (3, Interesting)

mustafap (452510) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389883)

>I only walked a mile or so through mostly residential streets

Try using a car. I recently moved to a small sussex town, and found an open network in a few minutes when I needed internet access to find an estate agent. There are two open networks in my new street too.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390231)

Try using a car.

You call that wardriving?

This [bbc.co.uk] is wardriving...

Re:Unnecessary (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389945)

I live in Kelseyville which is in Lake County, California. Lake County is home to California's largest and oldest natural lake (~9mi across at the widest point) and a bunch of grapes and not much else. We get lots of tourist traffic in season and it's just full of the local hicks, octogenarians and meth-heads the rest of the time. Obviously there are deviations but honestly those are the largest demographic groups in the area. I drove around the lake one day - no side streets, JUST around the lake - with my laptop, netstumbler, and my garmin gps12. It's a decent little GPS but it's based on pretty old antenna technology and has no external (that's the 12XL.) I was using a PCMCIA 802.11b adapter, a PRISM2 card made by Siemens, which has an external antenna jack but I have nothing to put in it. Not even counting hotels with open wifi, I was able to locate literally dozens of access points. Probably the open ones outnumber the closed ones about 2:1.

I had similar success in Marysville, which is a couple hours to the east and a damn sight more populated. I suggest you try this exercise in a car next time, as the other commenter says. But I don't think it has much to do with population or tech-savviness. I think you just didn't cover enough area.

Re:Unnecessary (2, Informative)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391157)

Netstumbler is awfull, all it does is send out probe requests which make it blatantly obvious what your doing. It also won't detect cloaked access points, give you any idea how many clients are connected to each ap or log any unencrypted traffic thats receivable by your card. Try Kismet or KisMac (mac gui version), it works a _LOT_ better.

Re:Unnecessary (2, Funny)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390027)

Well Sheffield's in Yorkshire, and Yorkshiremen are noted for giving "nowt for nowt".

Down here in Southern pansy land, there are open access points all over the place.

Re:Unnecessary (0, Troll)

hachete (473378) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390245)

cos southerners're inbred idiots. HTH

Re:Unnecessary (1)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391141)

Did you just keep hitting the "scan for networks" option on the 770? It's not always the most reliable... Especially if the signals are fairly weak.
Also if an AP is inside a building, depending what the walls are made of you might not see it.
Try installing kismet on your 770, and get a bluetooth GPS... Then drive around and see what you find, you can even plot a nice map showing all the points. I drove around a few residential streets here and found several hundred by driving around the outskirts of a housing estate. Of those, about 30% were open.

Re:Unnecessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21391887)

I'm in Sheffield, Upperthorpe specifically, and have also done a few surveys, My results differ rather significantly.

Sure there are almost no open access points in the city centre, but that changes if you include the ones in cafe's and bars that are free to use if you are a customer (showroom being the closest to the train station if anyone is wondering). Once you move out of the retail spaces to the periphery there are huge numbers of open AP's, Behind the cathedral there are any number of random, totally open AP's (at least one with a Essid that suggests its a solicitors). The new student areas are mixed, but the most you will need to go to find an open AP is about 100m's, Walkley, Broomhill, Netheredge and Heeley are saturated too. where I am sat now I have 11 (three of them are mine) access points listed, with 2 open.

I recently got hold of an IPAQ hx2790 and a hx4700, if you left the 2790 with its wifi on, it would pretty constantly beep at me to inform me that there was an access point near by and would I like to use it (stupid WM5), with the hx4700 (running Linux as from yesterday) I can walk into town and by the time I get there, read any email I picked up along the way (if there was any), as it currently will connect to any essid that's around and open and check mail.

The schools are also all leaking like sieves, (thanks to RM I assume), every primary/secondary school in the city seems to be wireless, and most have unsecured AP's (although I wouldn't advise standing outside of a school for any length of time if you are male and over school age).

Even more interestingly, between Sheffield and Manchester on the train (so trans-Pennine, through the national park, mountains etc..) there are three open AP's close enough to train stations that it is possible to get a dhcp lease (Although not much else, and I'd love to see their dhcp server logs).

Anyway, both anecdotal, mine data on Sheffield (other than my immediate surrounding area) is probably about 1-2 months out of date, but strangely different non the less, maybe you have issues with whatever it is you are doing your war walks with?

What would be more useful of course would be if it were a) legal to use these open AP's (I assume a survey is legitimate as you are only querying a broadcasting router, not using any services) and b) if more people let others use their wifi (constrained by the ISP's T&C's though).

Oh and to the person who likes sitting at the bottom of my road in Upperthorpe in a green Ford Focus, you should really be using encryption for your mail (especially when authenticating) if you access it on a random wifi AP, I'm sorry its down at the moment but I needed to replace one of my other routers and the public one was the only one that I had spare.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

Reaperducer (871695) | more than 7 years ago | (#21393045)

Either reports of open wireless networks all over the place are greatly exaggerated or the people of Sheffield are unusually security conscious.
People on Slashdot who rarely leave their parents' basements like to tell people in the real world that there are open wifi points everywhere. The fact of the matter is, there aren't.

They'll drive through a neighborhood and see all the access points that aren't WEP or otherwise obviously protected and assume that they're all clear. But they're not. If they actually bothered trying to connect to the internet through those points they'd know that most are locked to a particular set of MAC addresses or use other access prevention methods.

In my apartment, walking from one end to the other my laptop can see about 40 unqiue wifi points. About 10 are "open." Only one can actually be used to get to the internet.

i do not know were you live (1)

erlehmann (1045500) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389911)

but i live in germany and most private networks i encounter in berlin or munich and also smaller towns are encrypted. yeah, WEP is easily crackable, but you do not want to face time in jail here for posessing aircrack-ng [1], do you ? [1] http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/05/31/1629259 [slashdot.org]

Re:i do not know were you live (1)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391901)

Why crack a secured access point anyway? Would you walk into someone's house to grab something to eat?

Re:Unnecessary (3, Funny)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390385)

there are no so many home networks left open that one can just use whatever is nearby.

This is why my routers DNS entries redirect to a particular website with a particular image. You know which one.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391009)

This is why my routers DNS entries redirect to a particular website with a particular image. You know which one.

Because rerouting your DNS is so much easier than just setting up basic encryption.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391077)

Because rerouting your DNS is so much easier than just setting up basic encryption.

Yeah, but the thought of inflicting mental scars that will never heal is so much more satisfying.

Re:Unnecessary (1)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391171)

It's more fun, tho just changing the DNS is pretty stupid because someone can always access servers via direct IP, or simply hard set their dns servers. My laptop runs it's own dns cache that directly queries the root servers itself, because of ISPs with unreliable nameservers.
On the other hand, I had an intentionally unencrypted wireless network that dropped you into a honeypot network with a few funny sites, the only way out was through a vpn server for which you needed an appropriate cert.

If thats not foul play, i dont know what is (4, Insightful)

unity100 (970058) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389681)

Check that out. a company goes into many wifi bids, wins most of them, and then suddenly decides 'city wide is not worth it'.

thats foul play at its best. proxies, they are.

Re:If thats not foul play, i dont know what is (3, Insightful)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389891)

Normally, I might agree, but if they did back out before the contract was signed, so the cities should be able to fall back to the next bidder in line. If they did sign the contract, then there should be penalties for not abiding by the contract.

Another problem is that WiFi just isn't very well suited for city-wide networks and it looks like these companies are finally figuring that out.

The consumer access points being cheap and virtually everyone's computer having a client-side adapter doesn't help the cost issue enough to help make it affordable to the users, unless the network rollout is charity work. You need to rent utility pole space on every pole or every other pole for APs, assuming there are utility poles, some cities have been pushing towards underground wiring. You'd also need to worry about getting power to the APs. For every block, one T1 wired network drop for connection to the internet. I don't think those access points are consumer units either. Even if they were, the weatherproof enclosures are expensive too. Then there would need to be maintenance. I just don't see a viable, affordable competitor coming out of that. To me, all that makes WiMax seem viable, relatively speaking. Maybe if someone like Canopy can make pocket EC/34 or USB network adapters, then I think Canopy would be a better alternative.

Re:If thats not foul play, i dont know what is (2, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389965)

What? You're nuts. That is not at all necessary to create the network, nor have you even mentioned the greatest drawback to using wifi - you're only allowed to (legally) use three of eleven channels, which is all they're going to be able to use even if home users use others, and you're only allowed to transmit at low power levels by the FCC - if you use a high-gain antenna, you are legally obligated to decrease power if necessary to keep your signal strength below a given limit. All problems not faced by the hobbyist, who let's face it is not going to get a visit from the FCC unless they're interfering with the signals of others. WiFi is simply NOT the right tool for this job.

Re:If thats not foul play, i dont know what is (3, Informative)

div_2n (525075) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390005)

First, you can legally use all eleven channels of 802.11b in the US. It just so happens that if you want to have perfect channel separation, channels 1, 6 and 11 are the way to go. I've sat in on a discussion about using 1, 4, 8 and 11 or some such combination and achieving acceptable separation provide the APs aren't on top of each other.

Regardless, using the three channels and 120 degree directional antennas to cover the full 360 is the most effective way. That isn't cheap. Even if you roll your own using a WRAP board or some such thing, last I checked you can't get a weather proof AP with all three channels and antennas for less than $1,000. That doesn't count labor.

Re:If thats not foul play, i dont know what is (1)

petecarlson (457202) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391237)

Even if you roll your own using a WRAP board or some such thing, last I checked you can't get a weather proof AP with all three channels and antennas for less than $1,000. That doesn't count labor.

Quad radio: $530
http://www.deliberant.com/estore/web/pc-1183-31-lgo4agn-80211abg-quad-radio.aspx [deliberant.com]

3ea 120 degree sectors ~$180
http://www.wisp-router.com/wri/itemdesc.asp?ic=SA24-120-9&eq=&Tp= [wisp-router.com]

Plenty of spare cash in the budget for Cables, POE etc.

Now I will admit that these are not the best antennas, but it can be done.

Re:If thats not foul play, i dont know what is (2, Informative)

Reaperducer (871695) | more than 7 years ago | (#21392297)

When the city of Chicago abandoned its citywide wifi network plans a couple of weeks ago, the thing I found most interesting was that it was dropped it mostly because of power issues.

The city (via AT&T) planned to put the access points on light poles. But it turns out that in most neighborhoods when the lights go "out" they don't just switch themselves off -- they're actually cut off from power entirely at some central point that controls hundreds or thousands of lights by pretty much pulling the plug on them.

To a techie, this seems silly because instead of a central sensor, you can have individual light sensors on the poles that can determine when to be on or off. But from a city-building standpoint, it makes total sense. It's completely simple, and there are far fewer parts to break. It's like yanking the plug on a string of Christmas lights. Low-tech brilliance.

Re:If thats not foul play, i dont know what is (1)

wfstanle (1188751) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391293)

I know that I am going to say is going to be very popular but here goes anyway... In the 1930's the electric companies said that it was not profitable bringing electricity to rural areas. This situation was holding the nation back. Congress addressed this situation by enacting the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. I think we are in a somewhat similar situation. If business says it is unprofitable then government should step in and find a solution. It might initially be unprofitable but sometimes the good of the nation is more important than wishes of business. This is obviously going to open a can of worms but it was a government program that started the Internet. If business does not want to bring the Internet to everyone then government should act.

bah (2, Insightful)

Danzigism (881294) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389723)

Since WHEN does Earthlink know ANYTHING about providing good service for the public?

Re:bah (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390065)

Let me guess. You're a socialist who believes everything should be free.

Re:bah (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390107)

Let me guess. You're a mental retard who sees anything you don't agree with an "socialist" or "communist".

Re:bah (1)

Danzigism (881294) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390539)

actually, no I don't.. I believe the people with money should pay to help make their country a better place.. not sit in your own filthy money and die with it not making the human race evolve in any sort of way..

Re:bah (1)

bughunter (10093) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390329)

As an earthlink customer, I can tell you when: From the time I subscribed in 1994 to the time they merged with Mindspring in 2000.

I've been an earthlink subscriber since 28.8 kbaud was the speed limit, and the level of service has steadily declined. When I subscribed, I knew that when I called tech support, I'd be speaking with someone right across town from me in Pasadena, CA. Now when I call tech support, I get someone with a Hindi accent who calls himself Dave, and whose number one skill is establishing that the problem lies with my hardware or local telco, and then getting me off the line.

The inflection point was the Mindspring merger. I'd change ISPs, but currently my only other affordable options are AT&T/Yahoo or Charter. :p

Re:bah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21391075)

Dude, 28.8 is more than just sad these days. You want to upgrade to different provider. Maybe score some 56 kbaud goodness?
Posted on 20Mbit up and down - sweet!

Re:bah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21391177)

2500 recently laid-off employees (replaced by Indian offshore) are silently nodding their heads in agreement.

Clearly I know absolutely nothing about this, but (5, Insightful)

Gigiya (1022729) | more than 7 years ago | (#21389785)

When they make and win the bid, why aren't they legally obligated to follow through with it?

Re:Clearly I know absolutely nothing about this, b (0, Troll)

rueger (210566) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390033)

Tee hee, that's soooo cute... to quote the late Art Linkletter [wikipedia.org] "Kids say the darndest things!

Re:Clearly I know absolutely nothing about this, b (4, Informative)

eggboard (315140) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390289)

It's a great point. In some cases, EarthLink had won a bid, but not started contract negotiations. In some cases, a contract was on the table, but not signed. In some cases, a contract was completed, but the city hadn't executed it (often, a mayor works out the details and a council approves it, and then a utility has to be involved to agree to pole uses).

Where a contract is in place, EarthLink will have to unwind its obligations. In Houston, it paid $5m for not starting the network. In Philadelphia, they will likely pay out millions to walk away.

Re:Clearly I know absolutely nothing about this, b (1)

owlicks58 (560207) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390787)

In case anyone cares -- those payouts in the cities where the contracts have been partially fulfilled are the result of "liquidated damage" clauses in the contracts, if you care to learn more about it.

Re:Clearly I know absolutely nothing about this, b (1)

eggboard (315140) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390953)

The only payout I'm aware of is in Houston, and it wasn't for that reason. Where else?

City WiFi is for outdoors (3, Interesting)

icepick72 (834363) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390011)

I've subscribed to OneZine city WiFi in Toronto, Canada and the signal degrades quickly as you move back from the street. The best signal is sitting on the sidewalk with your laptop ... with the homeless people. You also pick up a strong signal while driving of cycling on the street but ... not a lot of time to use it. Suffice to say I dropped it in favour of Starbucks Wifi/Bell Hotspots which have a stronger signal indoors. There are enough Starbucks around that I'm never without a connection.

Re:City WiFi is for outdoors (1)

darjen (879890) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390399)

The best signal is sitting on the sidewalk with your laptop ... with the homeless people.
Seeing that just gave me an idea... something like "one laptop per homeless person"... I could see a great market for selling cheap laptops to them in the near future. All thanks to city-wide wifi!

Re:City WiFi is for outdoors (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390591)

>with the homeless people.

In Canada? Yeah, right...

Re:City WiFi is for outdoors (1)

ERJ (600451) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390869)

Actually, having traveled to Toronto quite a bit for work I can say that there are a lot of homeless people in the downtown area...one or two every block. Remember, Toronto is about as far south as you can get in Canada.

Give us some spectrum and we'll make it happen (4, Interesting)

troll -1 (956834) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390101)

I wonder if the problem with Municipal Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi in general, is that companies like EarthLink are trying to operate with their hands tied behind their back with restrictive power limitations and limited frequencies while the FCC gives away large chunks of the best part of the spectrum to cell phone providers for millions of dollars who then nickel and dime us for every trivial service they can think of.

Perhaps he reason we don't have a ubiquitous and cheap wireless Internet and why TCP/IP mesh networks [wikipedia.org] are *not* on the horizon for the 700MHz part of the spectrum is because the government insists on auctioning off a zero cost medium for mega bucks to legal monopolies who have no choice but to turn around and stick it their customers.

Maybe we need to stop thinking in terms of phone systems when we think about the spectrum and start thinking more in terms of extending the Internet. Just a thought.

Re:Give us some spectrum and we'll make it happen (1)

Reaperducer (871695) | more than 7 years ago | (#21392933)

If you think the government should give away internet access for "free" (nothing is free), then your priorities are out of whack.

If we're going to have governments give away services for free, let's start with a service that actually matters: clean water.
Then branch out from there to free sewers, free steam/heat, free electricity.

THEN you can have your taxpayer-paid for "free" internet and ponies.

Lost edge opportunity (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390123)

People shrug at these deals and delays and say they are "free" to the cities.
But there is a huge opportunity cost when these muni wifi projects stall out.

When cities cut deals that grant right of way and other concessions to a particular vendor, it tends to keep other players out of that space.

Ann Arbor is a perfect example. The vendor contracted to do the muni wifi (20/20 Communications) is struggling financially and has no idea where they will get the money to complete the project or when they will do it. And yet they keep signing up more cities. They look like a bunch of bozos who never had a real plan. They overcommitted themselves. They have FAILED. They should just give up and give other competitors a shot at delivering service.

Of course AT&T, Verizon, Qwest, Comcast and Charter *love* this. They don't want you to have alternatives at the edge. For them, the longer companies like 20/20 stall and delay, the better. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn there has been some backroom dealing between the companies.

Dang, the project is delayed again with no new completion date. But it is going to be free!

WiFi is not for "last mile" but for "last 30m" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390159)

WiMax is what we deserve

volunteerism (4, Interesting)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390175)

Where is your volunteerism?? Why should you expect the government, a company, or anyone else to provide you with wifi service when you can roll out your own??

You are not consumers. You can be producers if you want. Just knock your neighbour's door and ask whether they would like to start a new wifi community network project with you. Connect your home wifis together, and if you find a lot of people to join in then you will have created your own network. Then buy a business plan fixed broadband service or a dedicated line (paid either by the community as a whole or by one richer member who can pay for it) and connect it to your wireless and your network will be connected to the Internet as well.

That simple. Yes, I know, the technology (WiFi) is not perfect and you can't transmit with too much power, but if everyone has a roof and the signal is sufficient from roof to roof, then you don't need anything else. The major difficulty is actually a social one (your neighbors may not understand what volunteerism is), but you should try to educate your neighbors and persuade them why they should join in.

Look what people from my city are doing: AWMN [wikipedia.org] and also look at the photos [wikipedia.org] and some other networks [wikipedia.org] in existence worldwide.

The cage is open guys. You have unlicensed bands that you can use without a permit from FCC or other agency. You even can have RONJA [twibright.com] if you like the optical way. You also have telephone lines, modems, and BBS software. Why you don't use all this technology to create free networks? Are you really trained to act only as consumers, expecting that for everything you need you should buy it from someone else? If you aren't happy with what is available, build your own!

Re:volunteerism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21392835)

Hey you live in the Utopian County also...

Re:volunteerism (1)

Reaperducer (871695) | more than 7 years ago | (#21392981)

+9 Absoshitly.

If half of the Slashdot griefers and whiners got off their Twinky-filled butts and actually did something with technology besides use it to complain and look at porn, the world would be a different, likely better, place for everyone to live.

I'm in no way a hippie, socialist, commie, or whatever. I'm just tired of people complaining about the government all the time becuase they feel entitled to gigabit ethernet drips pumped into their arms. Hey, Lazyasses, remember "of the people, by the people, for the people?" YOU'RE the government! Change it, or do like the guy above and take responsibility for your own life and do something with it.

Earthlink != Municipal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390179)

Calling Earthlink provided Wifi a municipal service is the same as calling PG&E my municipal power provider.

Hint: They are both false statements.

Second hint: Therein lies the reason why Earthlink nor any other will succeed at providing a public service.

They can, and most certainly do, serve themselves in any way they can. Given the slightest smell of a government subsidized monopoly (i.e. "municipal" wifi), it's no wonder Earthlink jumped in full bore without putting any though into it. Didn't turn out to be the gravy train you hoped for, now did it.

@450 (2, Interesting)

fastest fascist (1086001) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390191)

Here in Finland, a company called Digita is rolling out something they call @450 broadband, basically they're using the old NMT frequencies to provide wide-coverage wireless internet access at a max speed of 1mbps. Apparently they've been open for business since april, 2007, and TeliaSonera is said to begin offering access to the network starting this December.

Some links, all in Finnish:
http://www.450laajakaista.fi/ [450laajakaista.fi]

http://www.450laajakaista.fi/9023/9022/9046 [450laajakaista.fi]
The main points in the FAQ seem to be: Suitable for wide-area networks, requires a separate modem, either an external box or a PCMCIA card. No pricing info released yet, my sources told me "a couple of ten euros per month". Useable on moving vehicles. Available speeds: 1024/512, 512/256.

http://www.450laajakaista.fi/Missatoimii/9092/9093 [450laajakaista.fi] (map dated 15th october 2007, unfortunately PDF)
Colours mean:
blue: Useable indoors without external antenna. Also useable outdoors.
dark purple: Generally useable outdoors without external antenna in parks and such, indoors with antenna. Mobile use requires external antenna.
light purple: In order to get a connection, a directional antenna must be deployed outdoors, e.g. on the roof of your home.

The coverage is being extended continuously, per schedule it should cover all of Finland by the end of 2009. In principle it sounds quite good to me, the speed however means it won't be a replacement for regular wired broadband. For mobile use, though, if the price isn't too high, it might not be too bad a deal.

Re:@450 (1)

mikael (484) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390471)

I've seen a lot of pay-as-you-go wireless broadband (3G/GPRS/HDSMA) PCMCIA cards advertised for laptops, which claim to offer 15 Mbytes of download for only 1 pound/day or less. Mainly for business customers at the moment, but the GPRS cards can be bought for around 16 pounds. If true, it seems to match wi-fi in usability and financial convenience.

Re:@450 (1)

fastest fascist (1086001) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391219)

3G in my experience doesn't really cut it in the latency and reliability department. May just be my operator, of course. I haven't performed any wide-scale testing.

Duh! (1)

ahooton (175832) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390275)

Of course you can't make money this way, that was clear to many people years ago. Earthlink just wasn't paying attention.

If you want to know why, just look at the work of groups like Personal Telco Project [personaltelco.net] in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.

Re:Duh! (1)

Ron_Fitzgerald (1101005) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390305)

Rumor had it that Earthlink was to embed ads into pages viewed through their wifi system. I can't site source right now because it has been so long. Clearly a violation now but at the time it may not have been understood that way.

802.11X is NOT Suitable for Last Mile (3, Interesting)

nuintari (47926) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390413)

I've said this a dozen times in related articles, but I'll say it again.

802.11 is the flat out, 100%, god awful, worst solution for last mile delivery. I work for a wisp that uses Canopy products, and we just laugh at the 802.11 competition. 802.11 performance degrades the more people you stuff on an access point. The limited channels, and the fact that they scream over each other forces competing networks to get into AMP powered frequency wars. The fact that only channels 1, 6 and 11 are clear from each other makes splitting an access tower to more than three 120 degree sectors pretty much impossible. And neighboring towers will interfere with each other. Oh, and because of how 802.11 does time sharing, essentially Ethernet collision detection with a few hacks on top, one nasty user can monopolize 95% of the available bandwidth for himself without much effort. And this is just my experience in the countryside, where we have few competitors to the last remnants of 802.11 we still have deployed. The reason no one can make money deploying 802.11 on a massive scale is because operationally speaking, it costs a bloody fortune to maintain.

Just because Moto's canopy is proprietary doesn't make it bad. They have been very good to us, old client radios work with newer access points, whenever a new generation of access points comes out, they have an awesome trade up deal that lasts for months, giving us plenty of time to give our customers the best speed available, without breaking the bank in one mass upgrade. There is an active 3rd party mailing list, that Moto monitors and responds to, an entire community of support from end ISPs, and mountains of documentation.

Do wireless right, make money, do it 802.11, and spend hours on the phone with irritated users who want to switch back to dialup.

Re:802.11X is NOT Suitable for Last Mile (1)

argontechnologies (865043) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390523)

Where are you based? We're based in Greenville, TX.

Re:802.11X is NOT Suitable for Last Mile (2, Interesting)

The Cisco Kid (31490) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390535)

I am familiar with Canopy, as well as 802.11. Canopy works for what its designed for, which is definately not roaming random access for corportate users out of the office. It is "fixed wireless", as I am sure you are well aware. The CPE has to be fixed in place on a structure, and carefully aimed for best signal. Im not sure what price model you are offering, but I seriously doubt you are less expensive than either cable or DSL (even at their 'regular price' ignoring limited-time discounts), and in fac are probably quite a bit more expensive, and you probably either require up-front payment for the cpe, or require a contract that will pay for it over time. Not that cable or DSL are great, both of them you are supporting a monopoly (and with DSL you are usually locked into a monoploy, *AND* have to pay for a phone line you may or may not need/want).

So if someone is in range of a provider using fixed wireless, and you are willing/able to afford it, and either 1. Neither cable or DSL is available and you want something better than dialup, or 2. You sufficiently hate whichever monopoly cable/telco option is available to you, then fixed wireless is a reasonable option. Oh, and that is assuming the cost of getting the CPE antenna info line-of-sight of the AP is bearable as well. If you are surrounded by forest or tall bulidings that might be formidable.

Fixed wireless *cannot* be used by the average corporate user in a park at his lunch hour, or by police (or anyone else) in a car. fixed wireless hardware is pretty much never preinstalled in laptops, cellphones, or PDAs.

What might be good is a hybrid. Offer fixed wireless to residences and businesses. Subsidize part of their cost by always putting an 802.11 AP with their CPE, and offering on-demand access (for a fee) to anyone that's in range and wants to connect. (Rate limit it so it doesnt eat too much of the capacity of the fixed wireless upstream).

Of course both of these technologies are fairly useless without expensive towers if the terrain isnt hospitable to line-of-sight.

Not practical without guarenteed revenue stream (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390461)

To be cost-effective, the people installing it need either a guaranteed income stream or a reasonable chance of attracting enough paying customers to make it worthwhile.

In cities where most home users who want Internet already have it, this is tough.

WiFi does work well in parks and other public facilities where the WiFi provider doesn't have to compete with cheaper services. It also works well in hotel lobbies and hotel rooms that that lack convenient wired connections.

Wifi simply does not have the economy of scale that WiMax or G3-phone-modems have.

There is a future (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390467)

It just yet.

Eventually i think it will become another utility like water or sewer or trash pickup, paid for by yet another line item on your local taxes.. That way the government can claim 'the basic human right of wifi to our constituents' and the ISP/Telcos can make guaranteed money. ( x$ per house in the area regardless of your intent to use, much like schools do now in many areas )

Re:There is a future (1, Insightful)

pauljlucas (529435) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390893)

Eventually i think it will become another utility like water or sewer or trash pickup, paid for by yet another line item on your local taxes.
I hope not. Why should I pay for somebody else's internet access? I thankfully don't pay to give people free cable TV or free phone service. Water, sewer, police, and fire are essential city services, but the rest aren't and therefore shouldn't be paid for by the government (and therefore all taxpayers).

Unfortunately for me, San Francisco (where I live) just passed a proposition whereby the city is to set-up WiFi. I really don't understand why. For example, there are at least half a dozen coffee shops within walking distance of where I live and they all have WiFi. Some of those also have computers for customer use (for a nominal fee). WiFi access is all over the city already provided by the private sector.

Since Earthlink is pulling out, it's not clear how San Francisco will actually implement the WiFi they're now obligated to set-up. The only viable option I see is Google stepping in (Google already did Mountain View, CA).

Re:There is a future (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391097)

Once the government decides its a 'right' to have wifi just like police services, us middle-class folk will be stuck with the bill. ( but i do agree with you )

Re:There is a future (1)

Vegeta99 (219501) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391227)

Oh you're already paying for people's telephone service. What do you think the Universal Service Fee is for? It pays for a service called LifeLine =)

Wireless ISP (1)

argontechnologies (865043) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390485)

I run a wireless ISP in Texas. I still don't understand the logic. I thought most companies using the give it away logic died during the dot com bubble. We use a number of different technologies, non of them including 802.11x We provide a high quality of service, and charge our customers for service. Even with a good business model and paying customers, this is not a business for the light of heart or capital. If you give it away, they might come.... but you will go. Marco Coelho Argon Technologies Inc.

Re:Wireless ISP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390959)

We're talking about a publicly funded project, which is entirely unrelated to the free/ad-supported ISPs that were once briefly popular.

Re:Wireless ISP (1)

12AU7A (676539) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390963)

      And what I don't understand is why do so many people have a strange sense of "entitlement" when it comes to internet services? Why should we pay for electricity, gasoline, but not have to pay for internet service? How come nobody is stepping up to offer "free city-wide power", or "free city-wide gasoline"?

      Just like providing power from a power plant, working at an internet company requires a lot of resources, and a lot of work from skilled people. And yet strangely enough, so many people feel as though they should get the benefits of all of this without having to pay for it. Where does that idea come from? And why don't we have that same sense of entitlement with other services and utilities? I don't see a fundamentally significant difference between the industries.

      Frankly, if people are willing to pay for their electricity and phone, they should be willing to pay for their internet services.

do you see a problem? (1)

pig-power (1069288) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390509)

"No....well.. maybe?" said techno-dork #1.
techno-dork #2 responds, "I cant quite put my finger on it.."
Then t-d #2 adds "But it's a simple theory. Free wi-fi, happy users, equals profit!"
T-d #1(who is the smarter of the group) "I think I see the problem..
free wifi + happy users = profit?"
t-d #1 adds "the eqaution is missing a constant...
free wifi + happy users + money = profit"
(ducks again)

To hell with EarthLink (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390987)

We have a government that we pay taxes for. Make it a public infrastructure investment. It would be one of the better ones. This what we are supposed to use public services for. For when the private sector can't/won't do it. The choice is ours.

Minneapolis Wi-Fi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#21390989)

Minneapolis is in the process of rolling out wi-fi. See here: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/wirelessminneapolis/ [minneapolis.mn.us]
and here:
http://www.usiwireless.com/service/minneapolis/overview.htm [usiwireless.com]

My friend is about to get connected to it. He said the modem was pricey, but he hates comcast so much that he doesn't care. I, otoh, game. Therefore I need the speed cable gives me so I'm kinda stuck with Comcast.

As far as profitability / viability goes, I have to assume USI Wireless is expecting to make money. Not sure that wireless WANs have surpassed current tech enough for them to back off their contract.

free-for-taxes solution (1)

rice_burners_suck (243660) | more than 7 years ago | (#21390995)

Duh, why weren't they using their heads from the beginning? They should have come up with a free-for-taxes solution. The system is installed all over a city, everyone in radio range uses the wifi for free, and the city immediately begins paying the company on a regular basis out of some new municipal tax that it would collect. (This could be an additional fee tacked on to the various municipal cell phone fees, or some other thing). Everyone would have to pay, even if they never use it, in the name of having free wifi all over the city. Earthlink would make zillions even if nobody ever used the darn thing. This might sound far-fetched, but remember that politicians don't give a hoot when it comes to your money, and also it's akin to the Walt Disney Company convincing the cable companies to increase everyone's monthly rates by $5 and start including the Disney Channel in the basic package. That way, everyone (even people who didn't order it) started receiving the Disney Channel "for free," and paying for it. It was sneaky, and if Earthlink had been wearing their thinking caps, they would have come up with a similar one for city-wide wifi.

Conflict of Interest (1)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 7 years ago | (#21391565)

Whatever happened to that term, I don't see it used much anymore and it certainly isn't being prevented. OS vender sells anti-virus subscriptions... sounds good to me! Internet service providers being contracted to provide free Wifi and shrink their own customer base... sounds good to me! Huh... wonder why it didn't work out? I'm in Portland where MetroFi is spreading their add supported WiFi service, as soon as a hotspot opens that's accessible from my place I'm canceling my DSL. Clearly the ISPs notice a trend of canceling subscribers as free WiFis roll out. It's basically going to kill them. So how could anyone trust Earthlink to roll this out in the first place? I guess the idea is "trust them" even though logically they shouldn't be trusted for that project. Perhaps "conflict of interest" is just a rude phrase these days.
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