Wireless Miami Dade County
I'm going to use this page to track and think about this concept. I'm doing this as a very interested taxpayer and an expert in the Telecommunications Field. That is the extent of my observations and opinions here.
Sept. 21, 2006
This evening I attended a Mayor's Workshop "Making Government Accessible to All: Wireless Miami-Dade County. I wouldn't have even know about it if it wasn't for a message in SoFlaHams by Evelyn, W4WYR.
First, a quick search on MiamiDade.gov and Google found these pages: http://www.miamidade.gov/mayor/wireless.asp as of 9/21/06
And the FAQ: http://www.miamidade.gov/mayor/wireless_faqs.asp as of 9/21/06
Mayor Alvarez, William Talbert, Chair, Ira Feuer and a School Board member, Ana Rivas Logan spoke about the project and their visions.
There was quite a few comments and responses from the community. Speakers included teachers, municipality elected leaders.
Now for my first reactions as a reflect on this meeting a hour later. I'm sure many of concerns have already been addressed. I did not feel a public forum was the right place to bring many of my technical and financial concerns up. I'm bring them up here to help me distil them into something to present to the leaders of this movement.
First and foremost, it's a great idea.
Some things that I believe will need to be considered at some point.
"The system will, however, be accessible at roughly the price of current dial-up Internet access plans." "Private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will have the ability to sell broadband access at dial-up prices over the wireless infrastructure, and varying county departments will lease access back from the service provider."
Here's the tricky part... for-profit companies already offer this type of service. They had to invest in their cable, telephone or wireless networks to make a profit. Company's that use the public right-of-way, streets, poles, street lights, traffic lights... or any other facility owned by the public, should have to pay for this advantage. In the case of cable TV companies, they bid for, and now have a franchise, sometimes exclusive, sometimes not. Once they start serving customers, they're required to pay the local municipality or County Franchise fees. Will wireless companies use the public right of way? I don't see a way that they couldn't. Unlicensed, low power wireless network nodes need to be much closer to each other than cell sites. The literature from the vendors, such as Motorola, show their nodes mounted on street lights. OUR street lights. Is it fair to let one, or even a few private ISPs use these while their older competitors had to build (or rent) their own poles?
My early ideas...
Free read-only access to County, School board, City Public information for everywhere from anywhere. Things like miamidade.gov available to everyone, no questions asked.
The ability to send information to any of these same entities should require some degree of registration. My fear is that such a free and open access system will be prone to abuse. Forms on feedback pages will be used to make threats. These threats will need to be acted upon. Since the police will be involved, tax payer money will be used. With some level of registration, there will at least some level of acknowledgment that you could be traced if you make a threat. Even with registration, the system should be required to track the source of every transmission. With the right subpoena, the management should be able to provide the IP address, MAC address, Access Point, channel, and signal strength of user at every given time. Without traceability, I'm afraid such an open system would suffer from abuse. Even if every threat turned out to be fake, it would still take valuable resources. Spammers will also find a public, open network very useful.
Next would be access to the whole Internet, but at a slower speed, with only basic services. Web surfing, text e-mail without attachments. This opens the door to those who can't afford the Internet any other way. Upon providing proof of economic need, this level of service should be free to the user.
Higher levels of access are the motivation for a private company to respond to this RFP. This is the profit center. "The system will, however, be accessible at roughly the price of current dial-up Internet access plans." NetZero's $9.99? Or AOL's $23.99? If more toward the AOL end, there's no advantage to this over the lowest level of Internet access from BellSouth, also $23.99. If more toward $9.99, it could let some people afford the Internet for the first time. This is a good thing. It could also erode the business from BellSouth and Comcast and others. This is a bad thing.
There's a downside to using a distributed network for public access. It's shared. While the data may be secure, each user is sharing a limited bandwidth. All of the Internet is shared, but dedicated last-mile solutions, like DSL have fewer problems with excessive traffic than do shared final-mile services like cable modems. Open WiFi is even more shared. The company selected to install this system will need, shall we say, motivation to engineer and more importantly, maintain this network so all users have reliable service at all hours of the day. The free users shouldn't suffer because I'm watching a game from a distant TV station. Just as the Cable TV companies are regulated and monitored by the County, so should this (these?) companies. Again, getting to use the public right of way comes at a price. They'll need to agree to meet standards an suffer penalties when they don't. Maintenance and reliability shouldn't differ by zip code just because the are more paying customers in one particular area. All this regulation and monitoring WILL cost money. A franchise fee, charged to the upper end customers is a method to recoup this cost.
Interoperability was mentioned as a big reason to install Wireless. I'm sorry, but that's way off base. What type of Interoperability? If radio, WiFi is not a two-way radio system. WiFi can't connect two-way radio systems. Interoperability to share data between public safety agencies? Ok, good reason. But again, there are many ways to share data. We're all on the same Internet.
Will this system be designed to meet Public Safety specifications? I know it's very early in the planning, but we learned in Wilma that we can't take power for granted. If ANY Public Safety agencies depends on this system for their safety, such as medical reports or getting criminal record checks, it has to be on the air all the time. No planned outages for upgrades. No down time blamed on other parties like BellSouth or FP&L. There may be some underestimation about what Public Safety really means. It's not going to be practical to install generators at every street light where there's a WiFi node.
It could serve as a secondary network... much like cell phones were at first. When shots are fired, you use your Public Safety grade radio. When you want to see if your Overtime sheet was received by your supervisor, you use your cell phone. The problem is that we've grow so used to cellular service, some critical daily functions now happen on cell phones. Can every agency in Miami Dade operate normally for 48 hours without any cellular calls? I doubt it. 10 years from now, when we're using this wireless network, will we be asking the same question about it? When it goes down, what do we do?
When the public becomes dependent on e-mail, web sites, will they be able to
tolerate outages? How will they know if there's school the day after
a storm if they usually go to the School Board web site to find out?
Analog TV is going away in 2009. (that's another paper I hope to work on
soon) Analog radio may not be far behind. We're losing
ways to stay in contact with the public. Today it sounds crazy that the
poorer public would depend on the Internet for information, but since they can't
afford HDTVs, the days are numbered for any visual medium.
Some ideas to consider for the network that may not be on the radar yet...
Work at home County employees. 311 Agents working from home. This means fewer people commuting. Perfect for people with disabilities, newborns, or those with an injury recovering. A lack of local supervision will need to be replaced with other technologies. Like random 'Are you here?' questions on your computer if you're supposed to be there. WiFi tracing to make sure they're really on the Access Point near their home and not on the one at the golf course.
Localized information. Let my Homeowners Association promote things to just my neighborhood. The system will know where I am based on the Access Points I'm hitting. Give me a box that will wake me up when there's a rapist that's been seen next on the block. With more people giving up their traditional landline, this could be an alternative to the 'reverse 911' concept.
WiFi can support SIP phones. Some phones are now under $50. Can we support a basic telephone service for the poor? In theory, even the homeless could get wireless phones to get calls for job interviews. Abused women and children could carry wireless WiFi phones to call the police when they can't afford a cell phone or landline. How will the cell companies and Local Phone companies react when they start to lose customers to these services?
I think I found an early Access Point. This is a light pole at NW 87 Ave and 36 St. County? City of Doral? I have to wonder how this will effect the designed wind load for this light pole. Click on the images to see them full size.
These are just some first impressions. I hope to be able to watch this concept develop into a great thing for Miami. I hope the leaders of this concept continue to take feedback from the public, as they did tonight.
Feb. 25, 2008
A lot has happened since I first wrote this page. Many things I won't mention here because they've been covered well in the media and they're not technical in nature. The net result is that 4 Miami Dade Parks will be set up with free WiFi. It will be a wireless County as long as you're willing to go to a park to get it. I appears this is a trend across the nation. Many huge public WiFi projects have been scaled way back.
Close-ups of the what appears to be the hub site for the Doral area.