Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Amidst the spate of the-sky-is-falling news stories out there announcing the demise of municipal wi-fi (liberally decorated with gleeful I-told-you-so quotes from "telecom industry experts" bought and paid for by the broadband duopoly*), there have been two recent exceptions that have caught my eye. One is that Christian Science Monitor article I referenced below. Another is this piece: Citywide Wi-Fi isn't dead yet By Marguerite Reardon, ZDNet.
I particularly liked this ending quote from Craig Settles, author of Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless.

"At the end of the day, a lot of the success of these projects comes down to marketing," he said. "You really have to go out there with a clear message and articulate how the network will impact people for it to be successful. And then you have to explain how you can pay for it. And that's not easy to do."

It's clear to me that the muni wi-fi issues we've been hearing about are all about either a.) Earthlink, b.) mismanaged expectations, or c.) both. Indeed, a key ingredient to good marketing is managing people's expectations. If you say your bleach makes clothes blinding white, but they come out of the wash just kinda sorta whitish... Expectations are missed and customer dissatisfaction may follow. Well, municipal wi-fi isn't going to make your coffee for you or get your whites any whiter, but it can spur economic development, attract business-class tourism, and serve as a warm, moist environment in which new wi-fi-based products, services, and companies can grow.

*Did you know if one household in any given Zip code has access to broadband, that entire Zip code is counted as "served" by broadband access? See this Chicago Tribune article. Or this excellent C|Net post by Josh Wolf. Or this piece from last year by Mark Lloyd at the Center for American Progress.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And the hits just keep on coming! Over the past few days, our little wi-fi success story has appeared in:

Today's Foster's Daily Democrat: "$10g grant gives boost to Ports. Wi-Fi"

Sunday's Manchester Union Leader: "Portsmouth expands WiFi downtown" by Faith Swymer.

And Friday's Portsmouth Herald:
"Wi-Fi connection growing downtown, beyond" by Adam Leech.

And yes, that 2nd photo with the Herald article is my MacBook's keyboard. Randomly. Makes me nostalgic for my old clamshell iBook Graphite SE, which was representin' with its "Got Wi-Fi?" sticker in media such as NH Magazine, WMUR-TV, NECN, and The Boston Globe. Here's one of my favorite shots of me and little buddy. Note the pony tail. I kinda miss him, too.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Photo Credit: Melanie Burger

Thanks to everyone for coming out for the eCoast Wi-Fi Project press conference today! It was great to reconnect with the old group, and to meet the folks from Cisco and UNH-IOL who will be expanding our network throughout the city.

BTW, in preparing for the conference, I was reviewing the user statistics (users answer a few demographic questions to obtain the network password) and I found that we had already nearly doubled our usership from last year. Nearly 2500 different people have filled out the survey this year! Over the past three months, we have averaged 500 new users per month! These numbers are, in a word, awesome.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A few things for you on this fine fall day. (If you don't LOVE fall, you probably don't belong in New England. But that's a rant for another day.)

1. Tomorrow morning, the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce will be formally presented with a check for $10,000 from DRED as matching funds for our wi-fi project. Mike Vlacich from DRED will be at the Kiosk in Market Square at 9AM. Media is welcome.

Background: NH's Division of Economic Development's Telecommunications Advisory Board unveiled a $100,000 matching grant initiative back in March to "stimulate and support public/private wireless broadband projects throughout the state." Visit for more info.

Of course, the kiosk isn't technically the wi-fi hotspot anymore, but it serves as a handy spot to mark where it all began back in the summer of '03.

This outstanding article from David Brooks at the Nashua Telegraph tells more of the story.

2. I've been subscribing to the City of Portsmouth's newsletter for, I don't know, a long time. Since they started doing it, maybe? And I have to say, here, for the record, that it is an outstanding service. I actually look forward to it; how many e-mail newsletters can you say THAT about? It's plain text, and it's not written with any literary flair, but man, it has got everything you might need or want to know! I recommend all residents of Portsmouth, people who work in Portsmouth, or if you're just interested in what's going on, go ahead and sign up! Old issues are archived there as well. City Manager John Bohenko deserves serious kudos for providing this service.

3. In today's newsletter, this item in particular caught my eye and I felt it deserved more attention:

Portsmouth residents may now recycle hardcover and soft cover books, videos, compact discs, DVDs, records/LPs, computer software and games, sports cards and comic books in a designated bin at the city’s Recycling Center under a one-year pilot project. Put the items, no matter what their condition, in the six-foot “Got Books” bin at the Recycling Center located behind the Public Works building at 680 Peverly Hill Road. Recycling Center hours.

What a tremendous idea! Here's more info from the Public Works section of the site.

OK that's it for now. Enjoy the beautiful crisp air and warm sun. And come see me tomorrow morning in Market Square.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Just a quick shout-out to Michael Goot at the Foster's Portsmouth bureau for helping spread the good word about our wi-fi project, and plugging my blog at the same time. Just a point of clarification: In the true spirit of a pilot project, we had technical difficulties and low demand for our hotspot in Prescott Park, so we discontinued that after one summer.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dynamic Internet Hosts Webcast Supporting New Orleans Rebuilding Effort

Shameless plug for my web hosting provider here, a little data center in Nashua that continues to do big things.

Dynamic Internet Hosts Webcast Supporting New Orleans Rebuilding Effort
See, this is exactly what I was talking about below. Wi-fi in large cities can be problematic in so many ways -- not least of which is the fact that so many private businesses and entities, from Starbucks up to university campuses, are already providing wireless Internet where people want it. This can render a large-scale Google or Earthlink type plan almost redundant, especially when cash-strapped taxpayers see the bill. But in smaller cities, everything from political hurdles to technological issues to the bottom line is simply more manageable, more doable, and just plain makes more sense. Today's Christian Science Monitor (or as I like to call it, the best paper with the worst name) has a great article on the subject today. Here's a teaser:

While big-city Wi-Fi wilts, hundreds of smaller communities have fostered thriving networks. These success stories often take place in cities and counties few have ever heard of – Owensboro, Ky.; Rio Rancho, N.M.; Kutztown, Pa. Their town borders don't extend very far, their populations are relatively small, and their main streets may be unglamorous. But in many ways, that's how they pulled off what most metropolises have not.

Disappointed they didn't call us, as well, actually. Oh well, MuniWireless picked us up, and did a fabulous job boiling down our project in 100 words or less. And "WiFi Net News" picked us up too, a day earlier. More soon...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Hello again my friends. We are blogging to you live from a misty and cool sidewalk table at Breaking New Grounds in Market Square for an important announcement from the eCoast Wi-Fi Project. The Portsmouth Herald has the basics covered in this front-page article.

This, of course, is coming at a time when municipal wi-fi is under siege from seemingly every angle. Quite correctly, Esme Vos of says that despite Earthlink's step back, the reports of wi-fi's death are greatly exaggerated. This Q&A in particular is required reading. Moreover, there are several big differences here in Portsmouth that make ours an uniquely viable model.

1. With the new Cisco and UNH-IOL partnership, our wi-fi network has a built-in raison d'etre as a real-world testing facility. This inherent value eliminates that "why should we do this" haranguing, leaving us residents and tourists with the remainder -- free, simple, public-access wi-fi for us to use and enjoy.

2. Thanks to NH Gov. Lynch, George Bald, Michael Vlacich, et al, and the hard work of the Portsmouth Chamber's irreplaceable Ginny Griffith, we now have some funds in the form of DRED's $10,000 matching grant. But our network continues to be funded and equipped by corporate donations of equipment, bandwidth, and professional services. This way, the "what's the business model" money thing question is essentially off the table. What's more, although it's conceivable that it could be in the future, advertising is not part of this wi-fi project. The only advertising going on here is the free kind -- the good-will publicity generated for the group's sponsors, the city, and the state.

3. Demographically, geographically, economically, politically, and size-wise, Portsmouth is proving to be an ideal place do to muni wi-fi. We're a fairly (but not too) affluent city, with a well-educated citizenry. We're not out in the boonies, so we have a solid base of technology infrastructure and we're not starting from scratch. We've got a nice mix of both locally-based and tourist-driven business, both of which have and will continue to benefit from the open Internet access. We're left-leaning and forward-thinking politically, but with a strong dose of old Yankee sensibilities -- pride of local control and in doing things our own way. Finally, Portsmouth is not so large that our wi-fi clouds can't cover key areas, but we're not so small that it wouldn't matter if we couldn't. Really, the only downside to wi-fi in Portsmouth is all this quaint-but-non-conducive brick we've got around here!

In the meantime, stay tuned. You know the nay-sayers will come out of their holes now that our plans are a front-page story, but our plan is solid and our intentions are both noble and reasonable. I have a feeling I'll be blogging on this a lot in the coming months.

Friday, September 07, 2007

What would happen if they cancelled an eBrew but nobody heard it?

Like a tree falling in a forest, I'm happy to report that it would still exist. This fact is evidenced by last night's "non-Brew," held at the Press Room despite the lack of organizers, advertising, or sponsors. Name tags? Finger food? Who needs 'em?! Our eBrew was small but free-flowing and dynamic, just like the early days. In fact, it was just like the early days before the Chamber got involved, with "e-Coast" name-coiner Mark Samber in the house! The 8 of us talked about how badly we want iPhones, the merits of bridging multiple WAPs in the home, who or what is a Ruby developer, Wisconsin (randomly), and our first computers (Scelbi, Amiga, Commodore 64, Apple II, RadioShack TRS-80). Ah, the memories of teenage geekdom! We also discussed the relative merits of way-cool web 2.0 applications like LibraryThing and Delicious Monster. (Hmm... I also recall there was some animated discussion of the legalities of having an empty pint glass outside, but let's not go there.) Anyway, equally as fun as catching up with old friends is making new ones, which I also did at our non-Brew -- a developer from Eliot named Jim, who has exceptional taste in both computers and politics. I'm already looking forward to next month's eBrew, or non-Brew as the case may be.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Hey, I like the title of this article.

And this one.

Hmmm, and this one, too!

This one is more of a seminar, I guess.

Ah, the sincerest form of flattery.