FC: Wireless community networks vs. corporate ones, by Annalee Newitz

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Sun Jun 16 2002 - 22:25:43 PDT

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    Date: Thu, 13 Jun 2002 13:50:48 -0700
    From: "Annalee Newitz" <Annaleeat_private>
    To: <declanat_private>
    Hi Declan. I think folks will be interested in a techno-political issue 
    brewing in San Francisco which touches on many of the problems faced by 
    wireless community groups who want to work with their local city 
    governments. Here's my story on how San Francisco's cable franchise deal 
    with AT&T threatens our burgeoning community wireless networks . . .
    Broadband to the people!
    Wireless community networks challenge corporate control of Internet access.
    By Annalee Newitz
    IT ALL STARTED with a can of Safeway-brand beef ravioli. Jim Meehan, a San 
    Francisco network engineer, had been reading on Slashdot 
    (www.slashdot.org), the geek news site of record, about how to build a 
    homemade antenna for his computer. The heart of the contraption was an 
    ordinary metal can. "They recommended using Malley's beef stew for the can, 
    but the ravioli was cheaper," Meehan confesses. After some tinkering and 
    tests, Meehan discovered his home-brewed antenna was far from ordinary: 
    indeed, it's possible Meehan's humble ravioli can, combined with the 
    know-how of a few hundred community-minded geeks, could dramatically reduce 
    the cost of high-speed Internet access for everyone in San Francisco. In 
    some cases, access might even become free.
    . . .
    And that's not good news for companies like AT&T. Because Meehan isn't the 
    only one who can surf the Web with a tin-can antenna: in fact, anyone with 
    an unobstructed view of Meehan's house can point one of these cheap devices 
    at it and share his high-speed Internet access - for free. If the practice 
    spreads - and Meehan hopes it will - why would anyone want to pay for 
    expensive Internet service from companies like AT&T?
    That is exactly what AT&T is afraid you'll ask, and it's why the company 
    and others like it have taken steps to block their customers from setting 
    up publicly accessible wireless networks like Meehan's. Since, under AT&T's 
    franchise agreement with the city of San Francisco, the corporation will 
    soon own most of the fiber-optic cable that provides speedy Internet 
    service to the city, AT&T's policies could spell doom for the city's 
    burgeoning wireless community networks.
    Or, if city officials intervene, the nonprofit, grassroots wireless 
    networks could spell doom for AT&T's monopoly . . .
    Annalee Newitz
    Culture Editor, San Francisco Bay Guardian
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