Monday, March 24, 2008

Plans for Municipal Wifi Networks Falter



Distressing news about municipal wifi and how plans to roll out free or low-cost wifi to large communities across the U.S. are failing as ISPs pull out of the non-money making venture.

It seems to me that the largest issue facing such an ambitious plan as blanketing a large area with wireless broadband coverage, be it urban, suburban, or rural is the need to someone to set up the infrastructure, or wireless access points, in order for such a community to have total coverage. Since the monetary incentive does not exist for companies to provide this service, and costs and return on investment makes it difficult for city governments to step in and build the infrastructure, there must be a different way to solve this issue.

I believe a system like that used by the One Laptop Per Child's XO laptop, with built-in Wifi wireless mesh networking capabilities, might provide a working solution to connecting disparate and geographically isolated individuals to the internet. The OLPC page has a great graphic demonstration of how such a mesh network operates. Instead of requiring many wireless access points, the OLPC project is built around the assumption that there might be only 1 access point per 100 laptop units and still provide connectivity to all the clients. In fact, the XO laptop can still serve as a wireless peer even if the CPU is powered off.

Perhaps if we shift our thinking from having a municipality or corporation provide the access points and instead reconsider the way wireless networking can be utilized we might be able to better serve lower income individuals who are at a disadvantage in terms of access to the Internet and information we might be able to better solve this issue. Peer-to-peer mesh networking might have advantages to the way we currently look at wireless communities, and might go far in stepping in to meet this important need.

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