Monday, February 14, 2005

Battling the 'Sock Puppets'

A growing number of American cities and towns are queuing up municipal wireless networks to provide affordable and fast Internet access to residents. But they're facing increasing opposition from players for the telecom industry, which seeks to consolidate its control over the "last mile" of broadband access to American homes.

Municipal Internet projects pose a threat to industry fiefdoms because they offer citizens a relatively cheap alternative to commercial ISP's costly and incomplete services. Moreover, they're easy to implement and administer and, as a result, growing more popular with local politicians and citizens. Viewed in light of day, the industry's recent putsch to quash local access is an undemocratic effort to stifle innovation and consumer choice.

Still, homegrown efforts to link up citizens may be on the losing side of this important battle.

As reported earlier in this space, major telecoms -- eager to dominate the multi-billion-dollar ISP market -- have begun to stake out territory wherever municipal broadband had begun to take root. They seek to frame community wireless projects as "costly mistakes" that are an afront to the American ideal of free enterprise.

Don't believe a word of it.

"Access to the Internet today is as much a necessity of life as the more traditional services and should be available to all," writes Jonathan Baltuch, an economic development consultant from St. Cloud, Florida, a city that provides its citizens with a wireless network covering 30 square miles. Baltuch emailed MediaCitizen to explain how St Cloud's network has proven everything but a "costly mistake":
Here is an interesting St. Cloud economic stimulus factoid: Average St Cloud residential annual Internet access cost -- $450, Average St Cloud residential annual property tax bill (city portion only) -- $300. By the city providing this one service to its residents the average household savings will be 50% more than the average tax bill for all city services. Further the $3 - $4 million per year that is leaving the city to flow to corporate headquarters all over the country will stay in the local economy.
Verizon, in particular, has been aggressive in snubbing such civic WiFi efforts wherever they emerge. But the company is not alone. Other large commercial telecom services such as Comcast, Qwest and SBC -- whose tentacles reach well into the pockets of legislators in all 50 states -- are arguing that municipalities have no business serving as ISP's, that such initiatives are against citizens' best economic interests, and that telcos should be granted the first right to refuse municipal WiFi projects that overlap where their commercial services are available.

The industry is working with pliant legislators in statehouses from Pennsylvania to Nebraska, Iowa and Indiana and elsewhere to draft opaque legislation that quashes municipal efforts to provide local neighborhoods and businesses with access.

Mouthing the Words Verizon Wants to Hear
Now a collection of coin-operated think tanks have taken up their master's call to produce biased research that can be used to preempt grassroots Internet initiatives. A quick check of the money behind these nominally independent research groups reveals them to be industry "sock puppets," tasked with a clear mandate to serve those who foot the bill. Already, city officials in Hermosa, CA are citing one of these reports, by the dubious New Millennium Research Council, in an effort to push back against local WiFi plans. Another story by Dennis Welch in Tempe's East Valley Tribune cites the NMRC study to discredit that city's proposed network. The NMRC is "an independent project" of Issue Dynamics, Inc. a consulting firm, which fronts for several large telecom clients.

The Cato Institute is expected soon to release its own report attacking municipal wireless. Cato, receives money from Verizon Communications, Time Warner, Inc, SBC Communications, Comcast Corporation and Freedom Communications -- all companies seeking to put a stake through the heart of homegrown broadband systems.

“There is, however, much less consensus about these sorts of government projects today than there was during the heyday of federal support for high-technology research back in the 1970s and 1980s,” writes Lee Gomes in Monday's Wall Street Journal. Gomes repeats the charge that both big phone companies -- which have lobbied in state legislatures to outlaw these networks -- and conservative Washington think tanks -- which tend to oppose activist-government initiatives -- are joining forces.

As a result of this two-pronged campaign to stamp out local innovation and widen the moat around the industry's existing services, America has fallen to the back of the pack of developed nations in providing broadband to their citizens. If industry gains a controlling hand in this battle, we will continue to lag behind more consumer friendly nations in Asia and Western Europe in offering access to the full array of online options.

MediaCitizens need to mobilize now in support of community Internet. You can learn more by visiting our coalition partners at Free Press, Consumers Union and, linking up with others who are building municipal wireless networks in your neighborhood and helping build a media of, by and for the people.

Or check out a community wireless network in action. Sascha Meinrath helped build the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN) using the same "WiFi" equipment available off-the-shelf for homes and offices, but he and his colleagues put it on rooftops to connect neighbors over several square miles.


Ms. Not Together said...

I think that is such a great idea. I don't think it would help me, since I live outside of town. I don't have enough for satellite internet service, so I'm stuck with dialup.

Anonymous said...

Normally I would prefer industry DSL offerings. I line in Malibu, CA, served by Verizon, but they seem disinclined to offer DSL to our topographically challenged community. I would welcome anything the City of Malibu might have to offer.

Anonymous said...

How do I find out if there is anything like this in houston, texas? PHawx

Anonymous said...

If you haven't already, check out this blog by Glenn Fleishman, a WiFi techie who's become enmeshed with the sock puppets.

In this post, one of the sock puppets emerges to defend his gig:

For many years, we provided a complete list of Heartland’s corporate and foundation donors...and challenged other think tanks and advocacy groups to do the same... However, critics who couldn’t or wouldn’t engage in fair debate over our ideas found the donor list a convenient place to find the names of unpopular companies or foundations, which they used in ad hominem attacks against us...

After much deliberation and with some regret, we now keep confidential the identities of all our donors. If you do not approve of this policy, your argument is not with us but with those who would abuse a sincere effort at transparency.
Interesting defense, no? "How dare you criticize us for laundering our donors' credibility, which otherwise smells so badly that the mere mention of their names causes people to retch and forget what we're debating!"

Anonymous said...

For God's sake, please make the type on your blog readable without the use of a magnifying glass!! I'm 72 and I'd like to read every word, but it just isn't possible to do so.

Anonymous said...

Politicians who oppose community broadband in small towns will have a tough time getting statewide or national votes for their party, especially in rural areas where choices are few or non-existant.

Small cities have no chance of a competitive service offerings, so it is good cities step in.

Note for the person having a hard time reading, Windows XP and probably earlier versions have a magnifier in the Windows Installation's optional accessories that allows one to scroll through text viewing it in large type.

Also, if he can afford it, a larger monitor helps a lot. We have gone with 19 inch monitors. Everything is hard to see on a 14 inch monitor.

Steve J. said...

Plattsbugh, NY owns its own electrical power supplier and the costs for residential and commercial electric power are dramatically lower than private sector rates. Here's a comparison:

Under the Joint Proposal, the proposed increase in base rates (including purchase
power costs) applied to a typical residential customer’s summer monthly usage – about
500 kilowatt hours (kWh) – would result in the average summer monthly bill increasing
from $16.64 to $17.84, or by $1.20. The typical residential customer's winter monthly
bill (1500 kWh) would increase from $57.03 to $63.73, or by $6.70. For comparison
purposes, typical monthly residential summer and winter bills for customers of New York
State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) are $65.27 and $171.40, respectively. The typical
Plattsburgh residential customer, therefore, would continue to pay about 73% less during
summer months and about 63% less during winter months than the typical NYSEG

Anonymous said...

After reading this, an idea occurred to me.

There has been talk about eliminating money, in the form of pac's, that are used to influence politics.

We have, at least for now, laws governing the the separation of church and state.

Maybe what we need, rather than the elimination of pac's, is a law or laws to support separation of corporation and state.

Including, but not limited to, pac's, corporate sponsored "think tanks", congressional lobbying, and any other form of political influence.

It'll never fly with our corporate sponsored politicians, but I can dream, can't I?

Anonymous said...

phawxhurst - Please visit Save Muni Wireless ( for news on the effort to fight against HB 789 in Texas. Information on how to take action and join our mailing list is posted there.

Anonymous said...

Having worked 16 years for major telco equipment suppliers, I agree that they simply are NOT concerned with serving customers, new technologies, or normal market forces and issues. They are only about exploiting the illogical regulated environment. The original Telephone monopoly was just about recovering the unfathomable expense of building and maintaining the "copper" network. The Baby Bells inherited that monopoly and through investing billions in the 3 L's (lobbying, litigation and lying to the public) they have created the belief that communication SHOULD BE controlled by them through the puppets (adding the aforementioned ones to the PUCs and FCC). Technology has given us the potential for fabulous communications tools that can be deployed to eager customers, on a real market-force basis, without the governments' intervention. The only thing standing in the way is the "club" of ILECs that will do ANYTHING to prevent the death of their cash cow.

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you people. The danger of WiFi is real. What it is all about are: 1) Proximity to the transmitters, 2) time spent next to those transmitters in a stationary position, 3) length of time exposed.

I lived in the same house with my father for 5 years. In that house, I had one 802.11g WiFi base station, and my 802.11b laptop both running 24/7 - on all the time. They were both located in the same room. I worked in that room at home sitting in a chair approx 12 hours a day, every day, moving little. I was 6 feet from the base station, and 3 feet from my laptop which was on my desk off to my left side at about abdomen level. I sat next to these 2 transmitters for over 3 years - in the same position every single day, absorbing that radiation every day.

My father didn't spend his days in the house, but he did sleep in it. His bed was directly on the other side of the wall in the next room less than 5 feet away from both transmitters. I am 36, he is 69.

Well guess what? We BOTH got cancer of the kidneys. Same cancer, same location, same organs, same type of cancer - on the outer lining of the kidneys. There is no history of this cancer in our families.

The pattern is clear. If you are in an office building 50 feet from the transmitters, or moving around a lot, or spending an hour a day next to them, or if you move from room to room, or if you turn them on and off, then my bet is you will never have a problem. It's the same as a cell phone or tower: in the case of a phone you're only absorbing energy a few minutes each call - on and off. even though the transmiter is next to your head. In the case of the towers you are usually moving relative to them, and they are miles away, even though their energy is much higher.

But in the above case I mentioned, where two people in the same house both spending multiple hours per day stationary next to two of these transmitters and then developing the SAME kind of cancer, well, it's not hard to figure out what happened.

Those things are putting out microwave energy. Those signals are hitting living tissues. Sure they are WAY less power than a microwave but think about it: if you are sleeping within 6 feet of one, then your body is not moving while you are sleeping. It's receiving the same microwave enegry 7,8,9 hours every single night over and over and over - pinging your body every night for YEARS. Your cells are absorbing all that microwave energy.

The moral is it's the constant long-term exposure day after day after day in the same location at the same power and frequency, onto the same body that causes cancer.

The danger is real. We need to be warning people about how and why these things can cause cancer.

For example the new flat panel iMac has two WiFi transmitter blocks across the top of the machine inside - almost exactly at head-level. Now if some kid is using one twice a week for an hour each in a classroom, the odds are there is no danger.

But now imagine you are an office worker using the same machine.

That transmiter is less than twelve inches from your brain. You're sitting there 8-10 hours every day in the same position. That thing is beaming its energy right onto your brain from less than a foot away. If you do that every single day month after month and year after year, you are effectively "drilling" a microwave hole into your brain. You're going to get cancer from it.

I am not a doctor or physicist but I have EE friends who tell me 2.4GHz is right at the water frequency and so does not pass through the body. However, there are many different types of tissues in the body. It might just be that one particular type of human body tissue is receptive to that frequency and absorbs it. Say - for example the outer lining of the kidneys.

This is a real problem and we all need to be aware of it. It happened to me and my father. We weren't imagining our cancers.

Turn your WiFi off when not using it. Move your base stations as far from people as possible.

Better yet - just stop using them at all and go back to wired - I did.

abigail said...

Great job on your talk on internet connections. I have a internet connections secrets blog if you wanna swing by my place!

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