Minneapolis North is Wireless Today!

I’m blogging from the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center in Mineapolis North. It’s the Community Sponsored Pilot Demonstration and Earthlink (one of two potential vendors) has turned on the Wi-Fi and I’m logged to the network. Bandwidth is excellent with bursts to 3 Mbps. I want this at home.

But my home is in South Minneapolis and US Internet, the other potential vendor is in charge of the south pilot with a kickoff next Friday (Brian Coyle Center, 4-8 p.m.). I have an access point right outside my window but I won’t have any logging info until next Friday. Damn.

Basic city service will be 1 Mbps but it will be symmetrical. The Earthlink system will have encryption built in. That’s great to hear. (Remember, Earthlink is competing for management of the network; they have not been chosen yet.)

Good attendance at this event. At the moment, Bill Beck with City of M BIS is talking about how the network will serve the City. Stuff like Animal Control getting ready access to info via Wi-Fi. Police can have video feeds. “Lower cost, higher reliability.”

Jim Farstad, City Wi-Fi consultant takes the stage. He’s not wearing his suit jacket today. He’s discussing benefits to the City. Estimates 300 to 400 hot spots currently in the City. Municipal wireless goes city-wide with that idea. “Ubiquitous” ah, I love that word. “Spur new developments of applications.”

Jim Farstad: “Increase digital inclusion. Many residents do not have access to the technology. Hard to apply for jobs if not online. This program will be a strong enabler.”

Farstad: Vendor will be chosen in August. City-wide deployment fully available in the fall of 2007. City owns Fiber backbone. System owned and operated by selected vendor. City will be anchor tenant. Farstad: “We see tremendous community benefits. Provide more cost effective access [for digital inclusion].

Catherine Settanni, C-CAN Director takes the stage to discuss Digital Inclusion. (I’m part of a coalition providing digital inclusion recommendations to the City.) Catherine is telling us why we should be online– jobs, e-government, education, banking, health care. She had another point – social inclusion – which she did not talk about.

Settanni: Community Benefits Agreement. Vendors has to work this out with the City. One major point is a Digital Inclusion Fund. Philadelphia has this and we will too.

Final CBA Recommendation from the Digital Inclusion Coalition is here.

Catherine talks about TC Daily Planet as loaded with community information. What about the Star Tribune? I’m amazed that they aren’t more involved to become part of a portal system and provide a news feed. Are they just short-sighted?

Ben Kimmel takes the stage. He worked with some kids gathering survey information.

Kids discussing survey questions: Knew how to use the Internet? YES. How much did they want to pay? $10.

Tiffany is the CTEP/Americorps volunteer. She entered in the data from the surveys. Found out that they were using the internet at a school or community center. Access was the biggest need. Used Survey-Monkey to collate results. That’s an online service, a web app.

A woman in audience asks why are we here today? To support this? What can we do now? Talk to our Council Members? Her problem is she doesn’t have the equipment. We need the computers. Hardware is the issue.

Next up: Cole Reinwand, VP Product Strategy and Marketing, Earthlink. He’s selling Earthlink. They had the first pop-up blocker! I didn’t know that. Earthlink is in Philly, Anaheim, New Orleans, Honolulu, BART (SF).

Why does Earthlink want to do this? They need to have a way to push broadband and only Time Warner Cable allows this or resell DSL which doesn’t have a good price point. So wireless will let them build out broadband.

Describing the Earthlink Mesh System… lots of pictures. We can go outside and see the tower. Radio transmissions are very low power, less ‘danger’ than cell phone emissions. Earthlink uses 36 Wi-Fi nodes per sare mile, needs about 2000 radios to cover the City. Need more powerful CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) to get the signal. We will provide the devices (cost?). 1Mbps up and down. Occasional use buy-in. T1 alternative from 1.5 to 3 Mbps. Less than 50% of land line rate (still $200/month).

Hmm. No chance for questions with the Earthlink guy. I wanted to know more about the CPE and if they plan to charge. Plus wireless networking from there.

If you are an Earthlink or partner customer (for ISP) you can roam to any Earthlink city and get online. That’s cool.

(Crowd has thinned out dramatically.)

Curt (from Digital Inclusion Coalition) asks about connecting to upper floors of a high-rise. Jim Farstad answers: need interior wiring. This sounds like cost has to be borne by the building, not Earthlink. Stucco construction will be a problem. Coles says sometimes they are seeing access to 6th or 7th floor and that they will try to address this after initial rollout.

Barbara, Phyllis Wheatley director, wants to know about access for community-at-large that don’t have computers. Jim F. discusses redeploying computer technology. Computer technology centers will help. They need to be upgraded. There are not enough volunteers.

Someone asks if any suburban communities want to be part of a wireless program. Yes, says Jim. Other communities might be joining our network. Bill Beck says it will probably be necessary for police and fire.

Catherine shows us a CPE.

Guy asks about whether he needs an ISP in addition to Earthlink. And wireless throughout the house? Cole says Earthlink bundles ISP with access. Jim says there will be business opportunities for working with interior spaces for wiring.

Cole: $21.95/month, sign up for a year to get a free CPE. Can link in a wireless router to the CPE. Can go without CPE if signal is strong enough. But sometimes the laptop card doesn’t have enough signal to push back to the Internet.

Barbara Milon, Executive Director of Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, thanks us all for coming today. Thanks for hosting, Barbara.

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