Spokane Invests in Public Wireless (and why it matters to you)

At MindCamp 1.0, Doug Dobbins enthusiastically speculated that his hometown of Spokane, WA would boast a "free" citywide wireless network like Long Beach, Philadelphia (planned), San Fran (planned), and the Mall in Washington D.C. in the not so distant future. Yes! Doug is either very prescient or extremely well-informed. This morning, he sent me this:

[Complete Story via The Spokesman-Review, (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge]
"The HotZone is a downtown [Spokane] wireless network that allows anyone to surf the Web free for two hours a day. The $80,000, 100-block network runs from Division west to Cedar, and from Spokane Falls Boulevard south to the railroad viaduct. Secondary coverage includes areas both north and south of the city core, including Riverfront Park.
A planned $150,000 expansion for a municipal network should happen by the first or second quarter of the year, said Joel Hobson, network services manager for Spokane. That network will be used by police and other municipal employees.

{...}City officials have touted the HotZone as a major economic development initiative to encourage innovation and spur growth."

In my opinion, "free for two hours a day" will indeed "spur growth", a growth in complaints and a demand for more access. Perhaps this is exactly what the Spokane city employees who are driving this project are banking on?

In our conversation, Doug opined that collaborating with law enforcement and emergency services would be critical to the successful implementation of any munincipal wireless effort, at least in the US. Doing so qualifies the project for Department of Homeland Security grants. The City of Spokane, unfortunately, seems to agree. In my opinion, inviting emergency services to the table is Dangerous with a capital 'D'. Maybe it's different in Spokane but when the Redmond PD or the Seattle PD sink their political talons into prey (usually budget), sharing is not on their minds. Yes, yes, yes, NYFD, NYPD and the Port Authority experienced massive loss of life due to lack of dedicated bandwidth (e.g., there weren't enough channels on the firefighters' radios to alert them to the imminent collapse of the 2nd building) following the attacks on the WTC in New York on 9-11. I literally broke down crying when I first heard about this. It's just so stupid. We were stupid. Our stupidity persists. But WE are not directly responsible. This is a FEDERAL spectrum allocation issue that CONGRESS MUST SOLVE! Congress knew about this problem prior to 9-11. Your congressman or consgresswoman and both of your Senators is undoubtedly aware of this problem now. What have they done about it? Ask them.

The sad truth is that your elected representatives in Congress and in the White House do not think you care about this issue enough to truly do something about it. On a human level, I'm sure they *want* to act. With all due respect however, they're probably not anxious to force the issue of spectrum re-allocation. Doing so will put them at odds with some of their biggest financial supporters and potential political enemies: the folks who currently "own" our spectrum: the media conglomerates.

Subversively carving up the small bits of unregulated spectrum (like 802.11) between the Police and the People is just plain Un-American and immoral. It's akin to spectrum allocation by fiat. The Police departments, Fire departments, and affiliated unions are a powerful and potent political force in the United States. Rather than STEALING spectrum from the People and suborning us to 2 hours per day of "free" internet access in HotZones (why pay for 24 hours when you only get 2?) public servants should be lobbying Congress for a reallocation of "beachfront" spectrum, such as the UHF frequencies, which are woefully under-utilized in all but the largest US cities, and a consolidation of the VHF frequencies as mandated by HDTV and HDFM legislation.

If you're interested in this subject (or worried, like me), I encourage you to read up and then write your Representative and Senators and encourage them to do the right thing, for the people and for the brave Emergency Services personnel that put their lives on the line for us every day. For more information about Federal spectrum allocation policy in the United States, I recommend The Cartoon Guide to Federal Spectrum Policy and Reallocating Unused TV Spectrum (to the People!).

If you live in Spokane, I encourage you to lobby your city officials (whoever they are at this moment ;-) for more than 2 hours of access per day.