The following stories have been tagged washington dc ← Back to All Tags

New Fact Sheet: Community Broadband and Public Savings

We have already published a fact sheet on the critical role community broadband plays in job development. Now, ILSR presents a collection of how commnity owned broadband networks save money for local government, schools, and libraries while providing cutting edge services. The Public Savings Fact Sheet is now available.

Though schools, libraries, and other community anchors need access to faster, more reliable networks, the big cable and telephone companies have priced those services so high that they are breaking the budget. But when communities create their own connections, affordable high capacity connections are only one of the benefits. A community owned network offers the promise of self-determination -- of upgrades on the community's time table and increased reliability for emergency responders.

The Public Savings Fact Sheet is a great piece to share to mobilize other members of your community. Share it with decision makers and use it to start meaningful conversations. Distribute it widely and often.

We are always developing new resources. If you have an idea for a new fact sheet, we want to hear it.

More Information about Community Wireless Approach in Mount Pleasant, DC

We previously noted a grassroots wireless initiative in Mount Pleasant that the Open Technology Institute is assisting and we are now cross-posting more details that they recently published. Thanks to Preston Rhea, who published this interview with one of the first volunteers to install a node.

I recently wrote about a local effort to build a wireless community network in Mount Pleasant, Washington, D.C.In April I chatted with Bill Comisky, the first neighbor-link in the Mount Pleasant Community Wireless Network (MtPCWN), a grassroots approach to providing wireless access to the neighborhood. Bill discussed why he installed an Internet-connected mesh router on his roof, his skilled observations and recommendations for the network, and what he hopes to see the network support for the neighborhood in the future.

How did you hear about the network?

I heard about it when you posted to our street’s e-mail list in June. On that super-local list, people like to share things - tools, a cup of sugar, furniture - and it’s also neighborly to share wireless access. I worked with Sascha (Meinrath, Director, Open Technology Institute) on community wireless a few years ago, so it immediately caught my eye.

You’ve worked on this before?

I design antennas for a living, so I have a professional interest. In Chicago, I volunteered with the nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology installing wireless networks in underserved communities. Even though it was only a few years ago, the software and hardware were much less developed than they are today. The equipment cost several hundred dollars and we had to assemble it the hard way ourselves. Since then, things have gotten robust and cheap.

I asked for your advice at the beginning of the project about the technology considerations.

For low-cost technology, a wireless mesh network is a complicated system. It's difficult to estimate how radio waves will operate in an urban environment. You have to consider 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz for the WiFi frequency band - 2.4 GHz propagates better than 5 GHz through trees and around buildings, but it is also a congested frequency due to the routers in people’s homes. Those are decisions you have to make up front, because you can't reverse mid-stream and tell people to change their routers.

There was a question about whether these routers would just serve as backbones for a network, or also as access points themselves. The new systems include dual-purposed rooftop nodes, which can act as a backbone router and an access point--like what you see at a cafe or a library. So in hindsight, unlocked access points broadcasting at 2.4 GHz is a good idea because most people use 2.4 GHz on their laptops and phones.

Why did you choose to share your Internet connection as a gateway?

 My past experience makes me a good early adopter. I have the tech skills to troubleshoot if needed, which hasn’t come up yet! I work from home and I have a good Internet connection with more bandwidth than I really need or use. It's there, why not share it?

It's nice for people to have a stop-gap solution for Internet access. Everything you do requires a broadband connection - email, applying to jobs, connecting to your bank. If you don't have a broadband-capable phone, and you lose your home broadband, you have to go to the library. This is a critical service, and there aren't a lot of options. Comcast and Verizon--that’s the extent of ISP options on our street.

 

oti-mount-pleasant-router-flash.jpg

What are your connection details?

My Internet bandwidth is 20 Mbps download, 2 Mbps upload. I have quality of service (QoS) rules to prioritize my traffic, but if someone on MtPCWN needs the bandwidth and I'm not using it, there is no cap. So far I have experienced no difference in my speeds.

Have you heard any feedback about the network?

I have heard from several neighbors. A while ago someone emailed asking about the network, since a router was accidentally unplugged (author’s note: it was my router!) and she relies on it for access. We were able to help her out with that. A few people have come to me on the street asking about the network and if they can use it. People ask questions about the cost, and the security. They are good questions - people should know what they are getting in to.

What local applications would you like to see on the network?

The Internet has made a ton of things accessible, but it's hard to get hyper-local content. A local radio station streaming over the network is like a very old radio station - you have to be in the geographic range to hear it. Nothing prevents people from doing this on the Internet, but the audience can get very diluted. You know that if you have listeners in a very local context, they will get your references. They have more of a chance for their voice to be heard by a relevant audience. It's like being in the local town square.

Photos courtesy of Preston Rhea from Flickr

New Videos From DC-Net and DC-CAN Highlights Benenfits All Over the City

We have brought you news about DC-Net before and have even highlighted the community network in our report, Breaking the Broadband Monopoly. Now we want to draw your attention to some videos they have produced.

Free WiFi hotspots all over town, secure indoor WiFi for government staff, and hundreds of miles of fiber throughout town are just a few of the advances DC-Net has made toward ubiquitous and reliable connectivity. DC-Net is a tremendous example of a publicly owned network providing the highest levels of performance for its subscribers.

DC-Net has released a video highlighting their advancements in DC and how their work has positively impacted the community.

The second video is from Don Johnson, Director of DC-Net, presenting some info on DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) to a Ward 5 audience. DC-CAN is an initiative to bring broadband to the underserved areas in DC with middle-mile connections. From the DC-CAN website:

The DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN) will bring affordable, value-added broadband services to over 250 health, educational, public safety, and other community anchor institutions primarily in broadband underserved areas of the District. It also creates a high speed middle mile network for last mile service providers to deliver affordable broadband access to residents and businesses in underserved areas.

DC-CAN already has 67 miles of fiber laid as a backbone and four city MegaPOP sites are now connected to the 100G backbone. From Ciena, one of DC-Net's private sector partners:

With this new infrastructure in place, DC-Net has already connected 49 new Community Anchor Institutions to the network and upgraded 52 existing anchor sites. Community anchors include charter schools, health clinics and other health care providers, community-based training programs, after school and early childhood development programs, libraries, and public safety sites.

DC-Net anticipates having 291 of these Community Anchor Institutions connected to the DC-CAN infrastructure by June, 2013.

Video: 

Exciting Upcoming Broadband Conferences in DC

Our own Christopher Mitchell will be speaking at two upcoming events on broadband and the future of the Internet.

First, Christopher will be at F2C: Freedom to Connect in Washington, D.C., on May 21-22nd. Christopher will be speaking on May 22nd on the "Fight for Community Broadband" Panel along with other notables from the Free Press, Harvard University, the Center for Media & Democracy, and the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA). The presentations will be at the AFI Silver Theatre and you can register here. If you can't attend in person, you can sign up for a webcast. From the F2C website:

F2C: Freedom to Connect is a conference devoted to preserving and celebrating the essential properties of the Internet. The Internet is a success today because it is stupid, abundant and simple. In other words, its neutrality, its openness to rapidly developing technologies and its layered architecture are the reasons it has succeeded where others (e.g., ISDN, Interactive TV) failed.

The Internet’s issues are under-represented in Washington DC policy circles. F2C: Freedom to Connect is designed to advocate for innovation, for creativity, for expression, for little-d democracy. The Freedom to Connect is about an Internet that supports human freedoms and personal security. These values, held by many of us whose consciousness has been shaped by the Internet, are not common on K Street or Capitol Hill or at the FCC.

Keynote speakers include Vint Cerf, Michael Copps, Susan Crawford, Cory Doctorow (via telecon), Benoît Felten, Lawrence Lessig, Rebecca MacKinnon, Eben Moglen, Mike Marcus and Aaron Swartz.

Register here!

After participating at F2C, Christopher will be heading over to Arlington, Virginia, to speak at "Creating Sustainable Broadband Solutions for Communities and Anchor Institutions" presented by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB Coalition) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The conference will be May 23-24 at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington. Come the evening of the 22nd for a reception to meet the speakers and other attendees. The focus of the conference:

This national conference for anchor institutions, BTOP and BIP awardees, and anyone else (including non-awardees) will explore sustainability strategies for next-generation broadband networks and examine how community anchor institutions can benefit from and leverage these broadband investments to serve their communities.

The keynote speaker at "Creating Sustainable Broadband Solutions for Communities and Anchor Institutions" will be Lawrence E. Strickling, Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), U.S. Department of Commerce. The conference will also include several notable pleanary speakers, including community broadband champion Joanne Hovis. The agenda also includes Break-Out sessions for more in-depth discussion. You can view the agenda, and register for the conference online.

OTI Helps Build a Wireless Network in DC Neighborhood

The Open Technology Initiative's Dispatches from the Digital Frontier blog originally published this story by Preston Rhea about his experience working with some neighbors to build their own wireless network in Mount Pleasant in Washington, DC. We hope it inspires others.

If you are not yet familiar with Mount Pleasant, here’s a chance to learn about one of DC’s most vibrant neighborhoods. It’s a diverse area not far from downtown DC, featuring a main street lined with locally-owned businesses. Many of these shops and restaurants are owned and run by the area’s large Latino community, which has long been central to shaping the neighborhood’s character. However, over the past decade rising housing prices have pushed many in the Latino community east towards Georgia Avenue.

In May, I moved to Mount Pleasant and started to learn about the area. In order to encourage community-building and local empowerment and to increase local information-sharing and opportunities for civic engagement, I decided to use skills and ideas garnered from my work at the Open Technology Initiative to organize a community wireless network. Despite my excitement to get started, I didn’t want to rush in without first connecting with the people, the histories, networks, skill sets, and local knowledge already present in the community.

My first step was technical: with the help of my OTI colleagues, I specified the hardware for the network and prepared the technology for installation. The first-stage plan was to install a few “nodes” (wireless access points) in order to establish the form and structure of the mesh network - open, interoperable, unfiltered, and decentralized. Then, at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, I handed out fliers directing people to an online survey gauging their interest in organizing a community wireless network in the neighborhood. I also posted a few of the fliers in local businesses on Mount Pleasant Street. But I needed to go deeper in order to really connect with the existing social networks of people and projects.

Several of my neighbors suggested that I meet Anya Schoolman, a community leader who organized the Mount Pleasant Solar Co-Op. Anya and her son Walter have worked on the co-op for several years, and through this process they have helped residents install solar panels on the roofs of over 100 homes in the neighborhood, which enables them to share solar-generated electricity with the rest of the community. Anya generously offered to host a gathering at her house in July, which we promoted through the listservs she created for the co-op. Thanks to her work in the community, Anya and her home enjoy “community anchor institution” status as a hub of activity in Mount Pleasant. Neighbors know and trust her, and since she provided an introduction to my invitation email on neighborhood listservs, recipients understood the context of participatory community building and neighborhood improvement.

Mesh

About ten people came to the house gathering. We discussed the potential of the network and how to get it running, and five people (myself included) committed to becoming neighbor-links by installing a mesh router on top of our roofs - a process people were already familiar with due to their association with the solar co-op. Thus far we’ve installed two nodes and are planning to install at least three more in the coming months - and new folks have come forward who want to add to the network as well.

As we move forward, our plan is to focus on working with underserved groups in Mount Pleasant -- people who may not be able to afford monthly contracts, or who are looking for tools to organize to address the effects of displacement of longtime residents due to rising housing costs. We hope to provide a framework that allows the diverse neighborhood to organize together in order to address the trends that affect everyone’s quality of life.

Stay tuned.

Freedom to Connect is Back!

One of the great conferences, Freedom to Connect, is back for 2011! I'll be in Washington, DC, (well, Silver Spring to be accurate) on May 21-22 to mingle with and learn from a lot of great people that have helped to create the Internet of today and are creating the Internet of tomorrow.

Very early bird registration is now open but ends on January 31.

Confirmed keynote speakers include Vint Cerf, Cory Doctorow, Rebecca MacKinnon, and Aaron Swartz. The program is still being put together - check in from time to time to catch the latest updates.

We'll be talking about community broadband in addition to myriad other issues where democracy intersects with communication.

DC-Net Provides Access to Community of Hope

A story from Washington, DC, seems appropriate for Thanksgiving. DC's Community of Hope provides healthcare and housing to people in difficult situations. It needs Internet access for its medical work but also for computer labs where people can search for jobs and students can do homework. DC-Net is now providing their access:

“Internet service has been a critical requirement for our programs for some time,” said Victoria Roberts, Community of Hope’s Deputy Director. “Through DC-CAN we are now able to get seven times more bandwidth for the same cost we previously paid, and the fiber network ensures that connection is truly reliable, which has been challenging in the neighborhoods we work in.”

DC-Net is going beyond just providing access to their locations by setting up Wi-Fi access points for the neighborhood to use as well.

DC-Net was created as a muni-owned fiber-optic network connecting schools, muni buildings, and libraries but has gone on to connect some federal agencies. The network has proved incredibly reliable -- far beyond what was provided by the incumbent or other national carriers. And now it is finding ways of delivering services to the people who may need them the most but have the least ability to pay.

DC-Net Looks to Expand

Following 9/11, Washington DC built a muni fiber network for government use.  We wrote about it Breaking the Broadband Monopoly -- noting its strong record of success.  The Washington Examiner has noted that DC-Net is looking for expansion opportunites.  

The city invested $87 million into D.C.-Net to get there. It now has 350 miles of fiber optic cable connecting city agencies at 355 locations in all eight wards. More than 33,000 District employees use it every day, and it handles calls to the emergency 911 call center and the city's 311 information line. The District also hasn't spent a dime on it since 2007. Instead, the network runs on a surplus, which is reinvested into its infrastructure, officials said. Now, the city stands to earn millions by leasing access to the network out to federal agencies.

While private companies constantly claim that local governments have no capacity to run fiber broadband neworks, DC-Net has proven not only can munis run these networks, they can offer faster speeds, lower prices, and better reliability.  Now DC-Net has a $1.6 million contract with US Office of Personnel Management.  

DC Publicly Owned I-Net Offers Free Wi-Fi for Tourists

Washington, DC, has greatly increased the available free Wi-Fi hotspots available to those hanging out on the National Mall. DC-Net is a massive fiber-optic network used by public agencies, schools, community institutions, etc. and offers connections that are faster, less expensive, and more reliable than could be achieved by relying on leased connections from private providers.

And now it is using this network to improve our experiences when we visit our capital (or Capitol for that matter).

DC-Net hotspot map

[T]he District of Columbia announced additions to its citywide wireless internet initiative. Over 220 Wi-Fi hotspots have been linked up to provide free Web access for city residents, visitors and businesses, District Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Bryan Sivak said in a statement.

The municipal Wi-Fi network now extends coverage on the National Mall, from 3rd Street on the east to 14th Street on the west. The Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) partnered with several federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce and the General Services Administration. Hardware and Internet services were donated by Cisco and Level 3.

A more detailed explanation of both achievements and goals of the program notes:

In response to the growth of wireless hotspot users and in an effort to improve the overall wireless user experience, DC-Net increased the capacity of the wireless network from support for 1896 concurrent users in FY 09 to 6464 users in FY 10. It also tripled the number of wireless access devices deployed from 1,000 in FY 09 to 3,100 in FY 10, while modestly increasing hotspot locations from 218 in FY 09 to 230 in FY 10, thereby strengthening hotspot capacity. Wireless bandwidth also nearly tripled, from 50 Mbps in FY 09 to 130 Mbps in FY 10. Hotspots support 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi standards and user access speeds up to 20 Mbps.

The Wi-Fi network is both for visitors as well as City employees who have access to a secure wireless network to improve their efficiency.

DC-Net Expands with Multiple Stimulus Grants

DC-Net, the muni-owned and operated fiber network connecting hundreds of community institutions (schools, libraries, local government buildings), is expanding in scope and mission following three broadband stimulus awards.

But first, to introduce DC-Net, I am excerpting a few paragraphs from my comprehensive report on community networks - Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need."

In 2007, DC-NET began with service to 135 sites, a number that has more than doubled to 280, including 140 school buildings alone. The network also provides connectivity for libraries, public hospitals, community centers, and some Wi-Fi networks.

DC-NET staff designed, installed, and have maintained the overwhelming majority of the network. As is common with all these networks, some operations are contracted out (e.g. fiberoptic construction and some aspects of maintenance, such as fixing fiber cuts).

DC-Net controls the locks and determines who has access to any part of its network, including key electronics on site in the buildings and elsewhere in the network, providing a high level of security.

On the critical issue of reliability, DC-NET has proven impressive. The network has more layers of redundancy than one typically finds with a commercial carrier and the uptime shows it. In the first year of operation, it tallied an impressive record – with only four buildings briefly losing their network connection in three events – an average of 15 minutes of interruption per site for the year. This is far better than the industry standard – in DC-NET’s first year of operation.

DC-Net is also more responsive to the needs of its subscribers. Though private companies like Verizon may require a month or even two to connect a new subscriber, DC-NET can do it in as quickly as a week to as long as twenty days. As for the services available, DC-NET will provide service from 2 Mbps -1000 Mbps, allowing subscribers far greater freedom to select the speeds they need than commercial providers offer.

This publicly owned network saves DC some $5 million/year compared to the costs of duplicating functionality using leased circuits. Even then, it would not be nearly as reliable due to limits in redundancy from leased lines. However, this impressive network can only be used for public agencies. Because DC-NET has used fiber conduit and pole attachment agreements from agreements with Comcast, RCN, and Verizon, DC-NET is currently limited to providing services to public, educational, and government entities only.

Fast forward to late summer, when DC received a grant to use the network to increase digital inclusion (quoted from article linked to above).

A $4.2 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, coupled with $1.5 million in matching funds, will be put toward an Internet and computer skills education program offered at Washington, D.C.'s public libraries and community college campuses. The program will target underserved individuals, including low-income residents, seniors and residents who speak English as a second language. The six-month classes, called DC Broadband Education, Training and Adoption (DC-BETA), may start as soon as October, and will continue for two years. Washington, D.C., hopes to train a total of 3,400 residents, Sivak said. After graduating, participants will receive a free computer, tech support and six months of free Internet access.

...

Beyond this education component, two other grants awarded earlier by the NTIA address the cost and public availability of broadband. A $17.4 million grant will extend the district's high-speed fiber-optic network, called DC-Net, which is currently available to schools, libraries, public housing and other institutions. The money will grow the 330-mile fiber-optic network by 50 percent, Sivak said, connecting the network to 220 additional anchor institutions. Officials hope that Internet service providers will connect to Washington, D.C.'s lower-cost backhaul and in turn offer consumers lower-cost broadband than what's currently available.

When the community owns an impressive asset like DC-Net, it has much more power to develop innovative programs to benefit the community.