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Free Wi-Fi in downtown New Orleans.

By November 29, 2005Uncategorized

Update 12.17.05: Note that a pending Senate Bill (S. 1294) would prohibit incumbent telcos from frustrating municipalities efforts to offer ‘advanced services’ such as free wireless broadband access.

The Washington Post reports that New Orleans will have a free high-speed Wi-Fi network up in the Central Business District as of today.  Two interesting factoids: (1) Louisiana law prohibits municipalities from offering Internet service in excess of 144 kilobytes per second, and (2) much of the equipment to be used by the city was donated by Silicon Valley-based Tropos Networks.

The New Orleans system will feature 512-kilobit-per-second speed, which is the most the network can handle efficiently for now. And, because the city is under a state of emergency, it avoids the law limiting service to paltry speeds (144 kbps is about twice the speed of dial-up).  Mayor Nagin is supposed to announce the new Wi-Fi system at an 11 am conference today.

Update: I want to talk about the Louisiana law that cripples municipalities’ effort to provide broadband access.  Unfortunately, I don’t have time to do that now.  And, in any event it deserves a separate post.  So I’ll get to that soon.  Meanwhile, here is a link to the law.  That link was to the main page; this link and this link are to the two statutes that create the 144 kbps limit.  The law says it aims to ensure that when "local government provides to its inhabitants … telecommunications services or advanced services, … and competes with private providers whose activities are regulated by the local governmental entity, the local government does not discriminate against the competing providers of the same services."  Advanced services, according to the statute, means, "high-speed Internet access capability in excess of 144 kilobits per second both upstream and downstream."

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  • At Tuesday’s Broadband Council meeting, Terry Huval of LUS recommended that our council ask the house and senate to make the law null and void. He sited illegal tactics by Bellsouth and Cox and that the law is wrong. We have tabled the discussion for our next meeting in January. The outcome of our decision will decide if the law is sent back to the legislature for review and vote. I look forward to the discussion as this is a topic that will most likely decide the fate of the Wi-fi network in in New Orleans and the Fiber network in Lafayette. We will hear from both sides and hopefully make the right decision. Senator Ellington, who sits on the board, wrote the bill. I look forward to getting the details presented to us by him and others.

    Louisiana has to continue to think outside the box if we are going to grow and wifi network in the city is just that. We have deployed free wifi in the city for two years now and am happy to see some of the results of our efforts and Chris’s. The Wi-Fi network is a godsend to the city and I personally appreciate the donations TROPOS and Intel has done for, not only New Orleans, but other areas of the state they donated equipment. We worked hard to keep communications going during the storms. How the city supports this type of network and the quality of service will be interesting. Should the city spend money on it right now while we have other bigger issues? Not sure, but either way, the network can only help.


    Carlo MacDonaldCEOVerge Wireless Networks, Inc.

    MemberLouisiana Broadband Council

  • Brian says:

    There shouldn’t be any bar to a municipality acting in commercial space. Governments take on commercial projects all the time, and there is a long-line of case law recognizing this fact. (The trade-off, of course, is that the city then functions as a commercial actor and faces the same sorts of liabilities as a commercial actor.) In this case, however, the city is arguably providing a public service, not venturing into commercial space, or at least not purely commercial space. The telecomm industry’s objections (which evidently animated the law) seem as misguided as private security companies objecting to the provision of a police force, or taxis teaming up to challenge public transit systems, or Abita Springs challenging the Sewerage and Water Board’s authority to provide drinking water. If anything, the City’s provision of wi-fi should be viewed as pro-consumer, by spurring competition and lowering prices. If private corporations want to stay in business, then they need to innovate and offer a service that supplements and surpasses what the city can offer for “free.”But if the City really wants to stay out of the commercial fray, then it could auction off the space (tops of utility poles?) to the highest bidder to let them offer the service to the public. Surely the fact that someone is willing to offer the public at large free use of their wifi network would be a major factor in the bidding process for the City to evaluate the strength and value of a particular bid.

  • Chris Drake says:

    Any analysis of that law and ideas would be appreciated. Obviously we would like to be able to better serve the city’s residents with the network once the state of emergency is lifted.

    Chris DrakeMayor’s Office of TechonlogyCity of New Orleans

  • Aaron says:

    Ok, I looked into a little and this statute MIGHT make the non-profit idea hairy:

    LA R.S. 45 § 844.47. Limitations on providing cable television and telecommunications and advanced services

    A. Except as provided in this Chapter, a local government may not:

    (1) Provide to one or more subscribers a covered service.

    (2) For the purpose of providing a covered service to one or more subscribers, purchase, lease, construct, maintain, or operate any facility.

    B. For purposes of this Chapter, a local government provides a covered service if the local government provides the service:

    (1) Directly or indirectly, including through an authority or instrumentality acting on behalf of the local government or for the benefit of the local government.

    (2) By itself.

    (3) Through a partnership or joint venture.

    (4) By contract, resale, or otherwise.

    Acts 2004, No. 736, §1, eff. July 6, 2004.

    Where I think the loophole is that the non-profit would not be acting on behalf of the government, but on behalf of the people of New Orleans without any government activity after the donation. Just an initial idea at the moment though – I’d want to research government donations of property to non-profits and the court’s view of the non-profits afterwards (instrumentality? Somehow, I don’t think so.)

  • Aaron says:

    A really simple solution without changing laws would be to turn ownership over to a non-profit entity to run it. So long as the non-profit has the correct type of statement (provide broadband to city of New Orleans at no profit, for instance), I think this solution would be viable.

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