Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The San Francisco WiFi Battle: Part 1

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors have a number of committees that meet weekly or bimonthly and though a few have simple names like "The Land Use Committee," most of the others have convoluted titles like the "Government Audit and Oversight Committee."

The latter had a meeting on Monday afternoon, December the 12th.

There were a number of agenda items, but the one creating the most interest was an examination into the public process surrounding a potentially huge civic project creating a free wireless internet network, which had been proposed by Mayor Newsom in conjunction with Google, the internet Goliath.

The problem was that there was little to no public input into the very rushed process, and so the three supervisors on the committee -- Chris Daly, Sean Elsbernd, and Aaron Peskin -- were being asked to grill the director of the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services.

Chris Vein, above, was appointed by Newsom to be the "acting" director in May of this year. He's a smooth character who worked at the White House for a number of administrations doing god knows what, and he makes a point of secrecy even though at the hearing he denied that this was his modus operandi.

In other words, it smelled rather as if a fix was already in.

It certainly wouldn't be the first time that has happened in San Francisco.

Even though there were the usual non-profit types at the hearing, looking to consolidate their bit of power while blabbing on about the "digital divide"...

...the real digital divide was between the passionately committed geeks who had a visionary, utopian vision of the future and everyone else who had no idea what they were talking about, and who were stuck in very old ruts of how things are done.

One of the best articles on this local issue was in the Bay Guardian recently by Camille T. Taiara and Matthew Hirsch (click here), and it's worth reading in full. They quote Tim Pozar, pictured above.
"In the past corporations have had a bad track record on addressing digital divide issues," explained Tim Pozar, cofounder of the Bay Area Wireless Users Group, which has long been rebelling against the big telecommunications companies by setting up free WiFi nodes in different parts of the city.

Media democracy advocates worry that Newsom is taking a backward approach to reaching his stated goals. The city must figure out what the community wants TechConnect to do before it can determine how the network should be built.

"Wireless is just one medium out there," Pozar said by way of example. Fiber-optic cable performs better than WiFi for video streaming, he explained. That would be an important consideration if, say, San Francisco's public access TV stations wanted to use the network to reach residents who don't subscribe to cable, or if they chose to broadcast Board of Supervisors' meetings so that people could watch them from their work desks.

Indeed, San Franciscans shouldn't be limited to using the network only to receive content, they say.

About three months ago, Kimo Crossman, a San Francisco freelance software developer between jobs, decided to find out what was up with the proposed WiFi project, mostly out of enthusiastic interest.

He asked for a bit of information from the Department of Telecommunications, Etc. and was stonewalled, which annoyed him.

So he declared war on San Francisco bureaucracy and in the process of shining a light on what was actually going on with the RFP (Request for Proposal), he's spurred on a whole group of geeks who may actually help get this project done right.

To get to Part Two of the article, click here.


p said...

merry xmas mr sf mike...

Anonymous said...

ASDF is coming soon! Don't be left behind!

Anonymous said...

Re: http://sfciviccenter.blogspot.com/2005_12_01_sfciviccenter_archive.html


This "non-profit" guy, is Sydney Levy & while humble himself, I'd easily call him brilliant.

Some Background:

The Program Director for http://www.media-alliance.org

Smart and dedicated doesn't begin to cover it.