MunicipalNetworking


Just got back from another presentation/planning charrette covering the Town’s new Downtown Development Action Plan and Framework.

The plan, created with input from UNC, the Downtown Partnership, Downtown businesses and local citizens, is supposed to look at economic, cultural and social development opportunities over the next 5 to 8 years and layout a fairly structured framework for encouraging change that meets both these goals and those encapsulated in the Town’s 2000 Downtown Small-Area Plan, Comprehensive Plan and other relevant guidelines created over the last decade.

Today was the first opportunity the public has had to review Kling-Stubbins’, a Raleigh planning consultancy, realization of that input into an initial proposal.

First reaction? Wow!

Back in April I attended both public input sessions to lobby for my vision of Downtown. I made a number of practical and visionary suggestions (as CitizenWill readers might expect) of how we could improve Downtown including using ongoing development initiatives like the University Square project to catalyze action. Today I saw quite a few of my and other folks suggestions captured and integrated into the proposed framework. Very encouraging.

The framework sketches out a series of evolutions that go far beyond a 5 to 8 year horizon: a new grid of east-west/north-south roads, linear parks stretching along Pritchard and Roberson creating several north-south axes through Town, creation of smaller human-scale city blocks to encourage greater pedestrian access, a multi-model transit station along a corridor running on the east margin of Parking Lot #5 (folks might remember my lobbying for such a corridor and its rejection by Council and RAM Development), an emphasis on work-force/mixed income housing OVER luxury condos, more parking especially along the margins to build up capacity, along with a slew of transformative elements to make Downtown physically and psychologically more productive.

On the planning side, Kling-Stubbins recognized that the overlapping jurisdictions between Downtown’s TC-2 zone and the Northside NCD (neighborhood conservation district) presented some serious challenges both for the neighborhoods and managing controlled growth along the Rosemary St. corridor (principally to the north). Addressing the incompatibility between the currently approved Downtown development projects and the maintenance of Northside, Cameron and Pine Knoll neighborhoods’ integrity is a key issue facing our Town. The framework presented this afternoon didn’t shy away from this issue but, instead, made solving the clash of competing objectives a priority.

In the “everything old is new again”, a few elements, like recreating the informal alley that ran through Fowler’s parking lot to connect Rosemary St. and Franklin St. to offload some traffic and add additional intersection corners (which attract and support high rent business), were rolled out. When I asked the consultants why they resurrected historical components of Downtown that I thought had worked, they admitted they were not aware of the history but had derived these proposed changes from first principles.

Another encouraging aspect of today’s presentation was how data-driven the process Kling-Stubbins used.

Analysis showed that, in spite of Council’s rhetoric in selling the ridiculous Lot #5 project, there are actually quite a few “eyes on the street”. Peak pedestrian traffic at Columbia and Franklin was over 10,000 folks. Consultants remarked that the high pedestrian counts throughout Downtown indicated quite healthy and enviable conditions especially in comparison to other benchmark college towns (Athens, Austin, State College).

Market evaluations show a need for Downtown work-force housing in lieu of more luxury condos. Again, contrary to recent Council policy.

For all my glee there are some sticking points – including incorporating wider public input, making Downtown neighborhoods partners and using TIFs (tax incremental financing, a problematic form of tax transfer payments) to pay for required infrastructure.

The Downtown Partnership will be posting the slide presentation, backing analysis and other materials used today on their website tomorrow (DownTownChapelHill.com).

I plan to whinge on more about the positives and negatives once those materials are available.

So, executive summary: framework is shaping up, has integrated public input, presents a revolutionary vision of Downtown the implementation of which will take decades.

Here is my formal application to fill Bill’s seat.

I agree with recent Council comments that their new colleague must be “ready to hit the road running”. To do so, an applicant should be prepared, involved and experienced.

Council already has a demanding workload. Over the next 7 months two major challenges – troubled finances and the Carolina North development agreement – along with a number of demanding development,technology and operational issues will strain Council’s capacity to deliberate and decide with the due diligence Chapel Hill’s citizens expect.

I am prepared to take on both the substance of issues – mundane or otherwise – and the time demands (280 hours alone over the next 7 months) necessary to do the job at a level our community deserves. On many issues I’m prepared and already up to speed with no steep learning curve to climb.

Over the last 7 years Council has become familiar with my work ethic: creative, hard-working, dedicated.

I have been an entrepreneur, a consultant, a manager, an executive officer of successful startups. My experience balancing budgets, managing employees, collaborating with customers, finding pragmatic solutions and meeting tough time constraints will assist me in fulfilling Council’s requirement that an applicant be ready – day-one – to serve.

I’m involved with a broad spectrum of local issues: protecting the environment, community outreach, increasing diversity, Town finances and fiscal responsibility, economic development, Downtown revitalization, UNC growth on main campus and Carolina North, civil liberties, affordable housing, treatment of the homeless, building a framework for mutually beneficial negotiation between Town and Gown, hands-on arts, infrastructure enhancements, election reforms, solid waste management, airport relocation and more.

I’ve attended hundreds of meetings, researched deeply, developed informed opinions and offered innovative improvements on many of the issues a new Council member will face.

I have also fought, irrespective of concerns of popularity and political consequence, to bring the best policy to the table. My allegiance is to my conscience. I have no hidden agenda and will continue to fight for solutions that are fair and just for all residents.

Tapping Chapel Hill’s creativity is a cornerstone of my activism these last seven years. I will continue my efforts to draw in the wisest public counsel, to temper Council desires with wide-ranging public input. Without a seat on Council I have helped folks shape this Town for the better. With a seat – tapping staff resources, liaising with advisory boards, shaping Council decisions – my effectiveness serving will only improve.

My experience with UNC and the Carolina North plan, my advocacy on improving the Town’s financial condition and my record of promoting the broadest community outreach meshes well with the leadership requirements of the next 13 months.

I will focus on non-controversial goals: setting Chapel Hill on a firm financial foundation, preserving those Chapel Hill qualities we cherish, creating new economic opportunities and promoting the broadest of public participation.

There are many ways to serve ones community. I’ve done quite a few – hands-on volunteering, advisory board member, community organizer, activist. Like Flicka with her neighborhood sewer problem, I started out with a small issue and now, like her, find myself asking Council to let me serve our fine community as their colleague.

Finally, I can’t fill Bill’s shoes, but I will honor his memory by working-hard to improve Chapel Hill for all our diverse residents.

That is my pledge.

Further background: what I’ve done lately, where I would serve and what I would do.

I’ve been pushing for our local government to invest in community-owned networking as necessary infrastructure for the 21st century. Communities that provide neutral and widely accessible communications infrastructures will reap the benefits of greater economic activity, level the playing field vis-a-vis the digital divide and help create a new Town commons open to all our citizens irrespective of their political or other views.

To date, the Town has ear-marked $500,000 to tag-along with NC DOT’s traffic signalization upgrade project.

One argument in favor of a municipal network is that the community has direct oversight and input into its operating policies.

So, unlike a mega-corp telco like AT&T, our local community can adopt policies which don’t siphon off our emails without due legal process and protect our 4th Amendment freedoms. Or, again unlike AT&T, can sustain network neutrality, repudiate online censorship and preserve our ability to exercise freedom of speech.

AT&T did their part this weekend to make the abstract threat of mega-corporation censorship little more concrete:

After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the “Blue Room” Live Lollapalooza Webcast. When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the webcast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them. During the performance of “Daughter” the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” but were cut from the webcast:

- “George Bush, leave this world alone.” (the second time it was sung);
- “George Bush find yourself another home.”

This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media. AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media. Aspects of censorship, consolidation, and preferential treatment of the internet are now being debated under the umbrella of “NetNeutrality.”

Check out The Future of Music or Save the Internet for more information on this issue.

Pearl Jam News, Aug. 8th, 2007

Pearl Jam? Hey, whatever you think of their music or RIAA issues, they have a point. If their performance can be censored in real-time by the only conduit carrying their message, well, it can happen in pretty much any other venue.

AT&T was caught this time. What of the next when, say, they are tempted to prune a few unflattering comments made about their monopolistic practices during the telecast of a Congressional oversight hearing?

I’ve taken a break from pushing the community owned networking agenda for a short while. Folks like fellow ‘blogger and net-activist BrianR have picked up my slack and moved forward.

I have a post coming up singing the praises of these local activists who have striven to protect our community’s ability to deploy a counter to the AT&T communications monopoly.

Until then, please hop over to Brian Russell’s Yesh ‘blog to catch up on what has been happening on the local scene.

Chad Johnston just posted this over on OrangePolitics.org about this weekend’s Peoples Channel fundraiser (July 21st, Horace-William’s House, 6-8pm):

Hey folks,

Just wanted to give an update on this really cool event! Food and drink will be provided by:

  • Benjamin Vineyard, Anathoth Community Garden from Cedar Grove,
  • Cane Creek Farm Pork,
  • Yugela’s treats,
  • Matthew’s artisan chocolates,
  • Sari Sari Sweets,
  • The Farmer’s Daughter,
  • Curryblossom Creations (Vimala’s food) [Vimala's food!!!! Absolutely delightful Indian].

Now if food wasn’t enough to entice you, check this out!

Local artist Tama Hochbaum will be present to talk about her work, “The Way I See Us: Family Portraits” currently hanging in the Horace Williams house.

AND, Alan Toda-Ambaras will be playing cello…if you don’t know Alan, you’re in for a surprise! Here’s a bit from his bio:

“Alan’s performances have gained enthusiastic reviews. In Paris, he “touched the public and the jury” (musique.france2.fr). The Washington Post noted that Alan “has the poise of a seasoned performer” and “showed off his strengths convincingly in the demanding repertoire.” And another critic declared that Alan’s playing “proved remarkable by any standard. . . . Toda-Ambaras is worth seeking out and hearing.”

And I might add, he’s only 16!

So come on…eat some great food, drink some wonderful wine, and support local media and arts!

Hope to see you there!

Chad Johnston
The Peoples Channel

For directions and more information, look at my Friday the 13th post “Broadcasting Localism: A Peoples Channel Fundraiser”.

As many of you know, I have a particular interest in employing technology to boost our citizens’ voices cost-effectively and in ways not otherwise possible. I met a kindred spirit in the The Peoples Channel’s director Chad Johnston many years ago when we both started attending the Town’s now defunct Technology Advisory Board to encourage facilitating democracy from the grassroots level.

As our Town’s “ONLY public access channel”, the Peoples Channel is dedicated to an informed, involved electorate.

For a democratic society to function properly, citizens must participate in their government, be educated to think critically and be able to freely communicate their ideas.The Peoples Channel’s mission is to advance democratic ideals by ensuring that people have access to electronic media and by promoting effective communication through community uses of media. Through this mission, we aim to provide the means and promote the opportunity for area citizens to exercise free speech through media production, education and distribution of cable television programming.

Cost-effective doesn’t quite capture how hard Chad and his fellow citizen media producers have done to squeeze value from the small allocation of funds their organization receives. And I’d be hard challenged to identify another local activist that has worked as diligently as Chad to forestall corporate efforts (IndyWeek’s 2005 “Big cable wants public access denied”) at the State and Federal levels to strangle avenues of citizen discourse.

One example is the Orwellian-name “Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act” which the Technology Advisory board discussed in 2005 (side note: Whom, now that the Mayor and Council disbanded that group, within our local government is spear-heading that discussion?).

That is why I was pleased to see today’s announcement over on OrangePolitics of a joint celebration of localism and fund-raiser for the Peoples Channel.

Co-sponsored by both the Preservation Society and OrangePolitics, the July 21st event will bring folks together to “learn about the importance of keeping it local”.

When: July 21st, 6-8pm,
Where: Horace-Williams House [MAP] (parking available on-site or take an easy stroll from Downtown),
What: Fundraiser for the Peoples Channel and gathering to discuss “keeping it local”. $15 donation suggested.

[SPRING CLEANING]

I asked Town Manager Roger Stancil May 17th how the CCTV (closed-circuit TV) packaged in the Town’s first steps towards municipal networking (Municipal Networking:Could We Have a Little Less Big Brother?).

Roger and Kumar Neppalli, our Town’s traffic (and now streetlight) point person, both clarified the bullet item. The CCTVs will be used strictly for monitoring traffic flows.

Roger apologizes for taking 3 days to respond – which might seem strange if you dealt with Townhall before – but Roger has set a goal of improving the flow of information into the community, a refreshing change.

Thank you Roger and Kumar for a quick turnaround (now, if we can just get a 7 day warning on those Council agendas).

From: Roger Stancil
Sent: Mon 5/21/2007 4:27 PM
Subject: RE: Clarification on CCTV usage

I apologize for the delay in responding to you. The cameras are generally for monitoring intersections for traffic management purposes. I am sure it will be done in accordance with this community’s concern for privacy and policies that ensure privacy is not invaded. Thank you for your questions. By copy of this email, I will ask Kumar if he has additional information.

Roger

Roger L. Stancil
Town Manager
Town Manager’s Office
Town of Chapel Hill
405 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Chapel Hill, NC 27514-5705

Phone: (919) 968-2743
Fax: (919) 969-2063

Note: Mail sent to or received from the Town Manager is subject to publication under the provisions of the North Carolina public records law.

—-

Mr. Raymond,

Mr. Stancil is correct and the cameras are used strictly for the purpose of monitoring traffic and provide guidance to motorists using variable message signs. These cameras are similar to the traffic monitoring cameras on I-40. Privacy of the motorists and passengers are protected and the cameras will not be used for enforcement of traffic regulations such as speeding, signal violations.

I will find the State Policy for use of these cameras and will e-mail you. Thanks.

Kumar Neppalli
Engineering Services Manager
Ph: (919)969-5093

—–Original Message—–

Subject: Clarification on CCTV usage

Roger,

I notice that the use of CCTV was mentioned in this resolution: http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/agendas/2007/05/21/4f/

Could you clarify where and for what use closed-circuit surveillance will be deployed in Chapel Hill?

I’m thrilled we’re making a smart tactical move to improve our information infrastructure. I’m
hoping that deployment and usage of CCTV, for whatever purpose, will be guided by a policy grounded in transparency and informed by a strong commitment to preserve our residents
privacy.

Thank you,

Will

Ran into Bob Avery, the Town’s IT Director, on Franklin St. today. Turns out he’s surveying Downtown with an eye towards deploying a small pilot program of free Internet hot spots in the near future. The pilot would use Clearwire as the high-speed wireless backhaul. The only resources needed are power and location.

I cautioned Bob not to limit his planning to publicly owned infrastructure like the old Townhall. Over the last four years I’ve spoken with more than a few Downtown business and building owners willing to provide a small chunk of space and the minimal juice for access point deployments. BrianR and I have explored using solar-powered, weather-hardened rigs, strategically meshed to cover a wide area. If the Town used this environmentally sound and quite economical approach, the only remaining requirement is a decent position to throw signal.

Speaking of signal, whatever free access is deployed Downtown should stay off the already saturated channels 1, 6 and 11.

Knowing the free access topology of Downtown like the back of my hand, I encouraged him to consider West End, with a current lack of free Wifi access points (beyond UNC’s) and high density of public gathering spots (restaurants, bars,sidewalk cafes, coffee joints, bookstores), for the initial pilot.

That’s a few of my suggestions for equipment, deployment strategy and location, what are yours?

As longtime readers and local voters know, I’m a strong advocate for bringing community-owned information infrastructure to Chapel Hill. Simply, to create a truly free new Town Commons benefiting our citizenry.

I’ve been working the issue now for over three years – banging the drum of strategic economic stimulus, social improvement – bridging the “digital divide” – and governmental innovation.

Local naysayers, like Councilmembers Strom and Kleinschmidt, continue, at least for now, to impede a tactical approach to building up Chapel Hill’s information infrastructure.

I’m a results oriented guy. I like to think that these folks, when faced with success after success, will eventually join in and seize this cost effective opportunity to kick start a key economic driver for Chapel Hill’s healthy future.

To that end, I’ve provided example after example, here and abroad of how a municipal network catalyzes a community’s innovative drive.

Two years ago I started talking about St. Cloud, Florida’s plan to provide free and ubiquitous connectivity to their community of 8,500 households.

YouTube Preview Image

Sep. 11, 2006, just prior to asking Council, again, to get the muni-networking ball rolling, I posted on St. Cloud’s wildly successful six month anniversary (Municipal Wifi: St. Cloud on Cloud Nine).

“So let the naysayers and talking heads let fly, but the little secret that is secret no more is that the results of a carefully planned and deployed municipally owned system delivered free to the citizens as a public service is actually the most successful, beneficial and effective model in existence.”

So says Jonathan Baltuch, who help found MRI, a consultancy specializing in planning economic development strategies for municipalities.

March 6th, 2007 marked St. Clouds’ community-owned network’s first year anniversary.

How are they doing?

MuniWireless says One year later, St. Cloud citywide Wi-Fi network shows impressive results:

St. Cloud, Florida’s network has received so much press because it is one of the few city-funded, city-owned networks in the US and it provides free Internet access to residents and businesses. Although the city owns the network, it has outsourced operations and maintenance to HP.

Jonathan Baltuch, founder of MRI, the consultant to the city, says: It is therefore fitting that at this year’s Muniwireless conference in Dallas the Cyber Spot celebrates its first anniversary on March 5, 2007. Being a pioneer with the first municipal owned system of its kind (although dozens of other communities are following suit), the Cyber Spot was immediately the subject of attack by the incumbents who were terrified by the prospect of communities taking back their digital rights. All throughout this year, while rumors and misinformation flew across the net fueled by various dubious sources, St. Cloud went about its business of providing its citizens with a premium quality service that saved the residents millions of dollars, eliminated the digital divide and created economic, educational and social opportunities for the citizens of the community.

Another by-product of this effort is that the city collected a comprehensive database of real world statistics and system information on the network.

Baltuch adds: The uptake rate of 77% is impressive when you consider that fee-based networks are attempting to reach uptake rates of about 20%. Incumbent broadband providers of cable and DSL rarely break 30% in any area after many years in the market. If the goal is true digital inclusion then reaching 20% – 30% in a community is unacceptable. This is why municipalities should be directly involved in providing this alternative service, hopefully for free, but at minimum for an extremely low cost.

Indeed, those who say that a municipally owned broadband network can never deliver good service are simply wrong. Many of the critics of municipally owned broadband mischaracterize the networks as being run by city employees who have no experience in delivering broadband service. In reality, most cities that fund and own the network, outsource the deployment, operations and maintenance to private companies. St. Cloud’s partner is HP.

At the end of 2006, Novarum, an independent wireless testing company, surveyed cellular and Wi-Fi broadband networks across the US. They ranked St. Cloud’s network no. 1 (and the only one with 100% service availability) ahead of Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, Earthlink and many others.

Why St. Cloud must be breaking the bank to provide this level of service! Afraid not:

The Capital expense was funded through the local economic development fund. The annual operational expenses are funded through the internal savings to City operations, which exceed the annual cost of operations.

That is the same argument local advocates have been making all along.

We could’ve been St. Cloud. We could’ve, and can still be, a competitive contender in the networked world.

You think Chapel Hill is safe? St. Cloud is in Florida – too far away to snatch North Carolina mind share.

As reported in today’s MuniWireless Greenville, North Carolina rolls out downtown Wi-Fi hotzone

The size of the coverage area is 1.3 square miles (3.3 square kilometers). It encompasses City Hall and the Pitt County Courthouse. This area is home to many businesses and the town commons where concerts are held in the spring and summer.

If the city decides to roll out a network that covers the entire community the area of coverage will be 31 square miles (80 square kilometers), and the initial cost estimate is approximately $2.5 million. The cost of the test bed is $51,000. It utilizes an existing Internet connection of 6mb down and 1mb up. The systems integrator/ISP is WindChannel out of Raleigh, NC and they are installing a Nortel Networks solution using 7220 access points and a 7250 centralized controller.

Greenville.
North Carolina.
Home of East Carolina University.

Eating Chapel Hill’s lunch.

In case you don’t subscribe to Council member Laurin Easthom’s ‘blog The Easthom Page, she has an update on some possible forward motion on implementing a municipal network.

Updated staff report on wireless with council discussion is tentative but hopeful for April 23. Such a report will be pretty inclusive and give us the staff’s full range of realistic possibilities for the council and public to consider at that time. I’ll update accordingly, or if things change.

She tagged it to her recent post on “Wifi and Economic Development”.

Thanks for the update Laurin.

If you would like to see our Town use technology to more effectively address social issues, improve operational efficiencies and drive the cost of doing government business down, then make a date to attend the rescheduled Public Forum on Information Technology 7-9pm Mar. 21st, 2007.

The event will be held in the Conference Room of the Chapel Hill Public Library, 100 Library Drive, Chapel Hill [MAP].

While the invitation by “the Town of Chapel Hill to the public to offer comments and suggestions on how it can use information technology to provide more effective and efficient services” is encouraging, given the consultant-oriented agenda

The purpose of the focus group is to provide citizens an opportunity to comment on the components of an information technology environment that would assist Town government operations to provide for the effective and efficient delivery of services to the community. Receiving public input is a part of the process of developing a needs assessment, which is being developed by RHJ Associates Inc. under contract with the Town.

I’m a little concerned that this is more about checking off the “public participation” requirement than soliciting real input.

Council approved the RHJ proposal for a needs assessment [PDF] Nov. 6th, 2006.

Who is RHJ Associates, Inc.?

RHJ Associates, Inc. (RHJA), a Delaware corporation, was established in March, 2000 as a follow-on to the discontinued public sector business unit of The Network Address, Inc. (NAI), Annapolis, Maryland to continue serving the local government community. RHJA focuses on information technology issues confronting municipal governments, is managed by Robert (“Jake”) Jacobstein, formerly Vice President of Client Services of NAI’s public sector business unit, and includes other experts in fields of technology relevant to accomplish day-to-day municipal operating objectives. Upon formation of the company, RHJA expanded its services by teaming with seasoned consultants who possess depth and breadth in virtually all areas of applying technology to government operations. RHJ associates have a minimum of ten years working experience serving the local government sector. RHJA consultants offer a holistic set of services in addressing municipal technology needs. These services include strategic planning, needs assessment, telecommunication planning and design, including voice, data, video and multi-media, organizational development, project management, enterprise resource planning, vocational systems acquisition, and institutional network specification and development,. Collectively, RHJ associates have served hundreds of public entities by assisting them with their information technology challenges.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Strange thing – the only website I’ve found for them (http://rhjassociates.com/) list their address as:

1124 Ragsdale Ct.
New Port Richey, FL 34654
(301) 332-2300
(646) 225-7777 (fax)
Jake’s Email

The site is rather, ummm, elegant in its simplicity.

If there’s another site, I haven’t stumbled on it yet. This kind of appears to be a one man operation run by “Jake”. The curricula vitae of his staff, at least the staff he had in 2004 looks impressive but his proposal to Council was silent on his 2007 assistants (if any).

How did RHJ Associates get involved? Town Manager Roger Stancil.

Town Manager Roger Stancil had recommended a contract with RHJ Associates Inc., a Maryland-based municipal technology planning company which he had hired in Fayetteville, where he worked as city manager before coming to Chapel Hill in September. The company is managed by Jake Jacobstein, a former executive with The Network Address Inc.

N&O’s Jesse James DeConto, Oct. 26th, 2006

Hey, working with someone you’ve worked with before and trust is a smart idea. The no-bid $37,000 contract – not so smart.

Especially for a guy that seems not to be broadly experienced in building social networks or business systems but, instead, has focused on optimizing telecommunications.

At least that’s what he did for Fayetteville’s Public Works Commission (their hometown power company) Oct. 11th, 2006 .

Consideration of Purchase of New Telephone Switch and Related Components
Presented by: James Rose, Chief Administrative Officer Jake Jacobstein, RHJ Associates
Recommendation: Award contract to Embarq (formerly Sprint) [OUCH!]

Same for Cumberland County, Jan. 25th, 2006.

The committee discussed at length the pros and cons for the phone system being voice over IP or digital. RHJ Associates, Jake Jacobstein will attend a meeting with the Partnership staff to provide an initial consultation for what is best for the Partnership and OFRC tenants.

Or Colonial Heights, Virginia Oct. 26th, 2006

The objective is to replace the entire telephone system with a new system that increases the effectiveness of 911 PSAP systems users and the public safety service level to the citizens. The City Emergency Communications Center desires to acquire a system with a proven technical and functional design and preference will be given to Proposers that have currently installed systems that closely approximate or satisfy the City Emergency Communications Center’s requirements in the major functional areas.

Hey, nothing wrong with telecommunications! I worked many years for Nortel – even programmed telephone gear. Heck, I think VOIP (voice over Internet) is the bee’s knees.

And don’t get me started on municipal networking and WiFi.

Just because it appears Jake is top heavy in telecomm , there is no reason he couldn’t be fluent in the latest tech trends. I went on to help bootstrap a couple .COMs to multi-million dollar status as a CIO/CTO. I’m at ease with the latest-n-greatest the computer field offers.

No reason Jake couldn’t have tread the same path.

Still, it is curious, at least to this former member of the unreconstituted Technology Board (you remember how Mayor Foy peremptorily dissolved those apparently nettlesome citizen groups don’t you?), that a needs assessment tapping the wisdom of our computer-oriented citizenry isn’t being performed interactively on the ‘net.

Where is the online forum?

Geez, one of the great advantages of online technology is to open up the discussion – to create a long tail of collaborative content to help fuel innovation.

A few missteps here but Mar. 21st will prove RHJ Associates mettle. 7-9pm. The Library. Bring your tech wishlist.

Profiting from Council’s continued inability to craft effective technology policy, Clearwire, a wireless Internet service provider utilizing proprietary spectrum, has gained a toe-hold in our community.

These days, it’s hard to imagine getting through high school without the Internet.

However, there are at least 100 students at East Chapel Hill High School whose families cannot afford the service.

This number is a big concern for Ginny Guilfoile, East Chapel Hill’s Parent Teacher Student Association president who started a program to provide loaner computers and Internet access for students in need.

“I thought, how would it be if my kid didn’t have a computer,” Guilfoile said. “I knew there were kids that could not keep up with the other kids at East without the Internet.”

The district’s Information Technology Division was able to form a partnership with Clearwire, a high-speed wireless Internet provider.

Ray Reitz, the district’s chief technology officer, explained that by using Clearwire, the need for costly land-line phones or cable is eliminated.

“The cost of Internet access has been the main obstacle. The Clearwire solution is a completely wireless solution,” Reitz said.

Daily Tar Heel, Feb. 28th, 2007

Long time readers know how I’ve promoted the development of a community-owned network to stimulate economic development, bridge the digital divide and increase Town’s operational efficiency.

Councilmember Laurin Easthom has been the only elective leader to-date promoting the cost effective and tactical deployment of this “must have” infrastructure.

“Must have”? Yes, to compete effectively in the global marketplace we need to invest a modest amount in technological infrastructure.

Rider said she has received very positive feedback from the 42 students to whom the program has provided Internet access so far.

“One student told me the quality of her work improved because she had time in between going to school and working on assignments,” Rider said. “Basically they all talk about the same thing – how it was very hard to do their work and how much easier it is right now.”

Guilfoile said that although the program has been successful this year, the PTSA might not be able to sustain the funds needed to continue it unless they find a long-term source for funding.

Only 42 students now out of 100 alone at East covered by the $15,000 in grant money.

What of all the other students and residents within Town that are cut-off from the new Town Commons?

Free access to both information and information infrastructure is critical for our community’s success.

Recently, local activist Ellen Perry pointed out in a thread on OrangePolitics the problem the homeless have when cut-off from communication:

has any one ever thought about helping these folks get social security and a post office box so they could start to help themselves . if people dont have anywhere to get there mail its hard to start to get a check or a medicaid card or food stamps or apply for any of the stuff people have when they have a home.

As last week’s Independent headlined (Bridging the divide
Techies across the Triangle are finding ways to connect people around the world
), more and more services are being directed and delivered via the ‘net.

For a community that prides itself on social justice and intellectual prowess, the continuing failure to bridge the gap is inexcusable.

An update on the muni-networking task force prepared by UNC’s Shannon Howle Schelin, PhD, one of our stronger advocates for 21st century infrastructure.

On November 13, 2006, an exploratory meeting was held at the Town of Chapel Hill to discuss the Town’s interest in pursuing a wireless strategy. The goal of the meeting was to determine a strategy for investigating the broad issues related to a wireless initiative in the Town, as well as to seek the in-kind support and expert guidance of the University of North Carolina (UNC), the UNC School of Government (UNC SOG), and the NC League of Municipalities (NCLM). External participants participating in the meeting included John Streck, UNC, Shannon Schelin, UNC SOG, and Lee Mandell, NCLM. Internal staff members participating in the meeting included Roger Stancil, Flo Miller, Bob Avery and Arek Kempinski.

The preliminary minutes and associated outcomes of the meeting are offered for your review and comment.
The external participants were briefed on the interest of Town Council and citizen advocates in pursuing a wireless strategy for Chapel Hill. The majority of the conversation centered on the “why” question—as in “why is Chapel Hill interested in undertaking such an effort?” The drivers for the wireless strategy were articulated as follows:

  • 1. Addressing the digital divide;
  • 2. Increasing citizen access (in-home service)
  • 3. Increasing mobility (ubiquitous access in public areas—i.e. downtown);
  • 4. Improving governmental operations (public safety and public service); and,
  • 5. Economic development.

Based on the conversation, the following suggestions and commitments were made by UNC, UNC SOG, and NCLM

  • 1. The interest of the Town Council and citizen advocates does not specifically presume a “wireless” solution, but rather, a “connectivity” solution of which wireless is one component.
  • 2. The “why” question is multi-faceted and each component needs to be studied individually in order to create a comprehensive connectivity plan.
    • a. For example, licensed radio frequency (4.9 GHz, etc) is a robust, 802.16 alternative that is specifically designed for public safety and public service but is unavailable for citizen use. However, the lack of interference that is provided by the licensed spectrum creates significant advantages in data speed, accuracy, reliability, and security—all of which are vital to the development of any mobile government applications.
    • b. Another example is the extension of a wireless network into low-wealth communities without the provision of equipment used to access the network will not have the desired impact upon the community.
  • 3. The external participants, UNC, UNC SOG, and NCLM, agreed to work as a team, with the involvement of the Town staff, to examine the components and drivers of the “connectivity” request that has been generated by Town Council and citizen advocates. The outcome of this work will be a comprehensive listing of the drivers and requisite solution alternatives for each issue.
  • 4. The request to identify additional drivers associated with the connectivity request was made at the close of the meeting and will be gathered by Town staff through conversations with Council Members.
  • 5. The team will convene to begin its work after the Thanksgiving break.
  • 6. In addition, upon completion of the plan, the team will advise the Town Council and staff on the technological, financial, and legal issues surrounding the various solutions that will compose the Connectivity Plan.

Additional feedback or comments on this meeting or the steps outlined for proceeding are appreciated.

Originally tonight’s Council agenda seemed to indicate a discussion on forming a broader task force was on the docket. Now the item is “informational”.

A shame, as I was planning to make a few comments about the lack of citizen advocates within the current discussion and trumpet the continuing successes of other locales, like St. Cloud Florida’s comprehensive effort or Minnesota’s St. Louis Park educational outreach.

From Council member Laurin Easthom’s ‘blog The Easthom Page:

At our last council meeting, I read the above history of wireless in town, and gave our new town manager, Roger Stancil, the opportunity to begin a process. He appointed a staff committee headed by Flo Miller to keep the process alive in exploring a municipal wireless system within the context of a technology master plan. Additionally at that meeting, when the Town was discussing the timing of the fiber optic traffic signal system, Kevin Foy reminded David Bonk of our desire to study and consider the laying of fiber along with our upgraded system (for a possible future municipal broadband network backbone.) Now we have a council discussion of wireless and our master technology plan scheduled to be on our agenda at our next council meeting.

Phew! After a recent discussion with some local citizens about the majority of Council’s rather tepid and slow response to reconstituting the municipal networking initiative, I was ready to join with Laurin and start beating the drum for both a exploratory task force and a renewed effort to implement a strategic technology plan for our town.

Looks like Laurin went ahead without me ;-)

She also reports that Mayor Foy hasn’t forgotten our strategic opportunity to “tag-a-long” with NC-DOT’s efforts to lay fibre to each of our nearly 100 signalized intersections. This community-owned high-speed networking loop would thread its way through every commercial district, lie along almost every University boundary and penetrate deeply into several underserved residential areas.

Long time followers of my efforts to promote municipal networking will remember that former town Technology Board member Terri Buckner and I focused attention on this once in decades opportunity nearly 3 years ago.

Thank you Laurin for keeping hope alive.

Monday’s agenda will be published here.


From Sept. 18th’s Daily Tar Heel by kind permission of Mason Phillips.

Nice to see a shout-out to my series on the poor decision to go with the proprietary lock-in NextBus system over an open-standards system. An alternative standards-based system could’ve delivered Internet access along all 23 transit routes – an alternative providing excellent penetration of free communication services into the most under-served of our neighborhoods.

So let the naysayers and talking heads let fly, but the little secret that is secret no more is that the results of a carefully planned and deployed municipally owned system delivered free to the citizens as a public service is actually the most successful, beneficial and effective model in existence.

So says Jonathan Baltuch, who help found MRI, a consultancy specializing in planning economic development strategies for municipalities.

What naysayers? Those critical of St. Cloud, Florida’s deployment of a municipally-sponsored, tax-supported but externally managed citywide high-speed Internet service. After just 6 months, with %77 uptake this public service project is well on its way to providing %100 of the St. Cloud community with ubiquitous Internet access. Amazing for a community lacking Chapel Hill’s built-in audience of academic, entrepreneurial and professional communication consumers.

…championed by former Mayor Glenn Sangiovanni, [the service] was viewed from day one as an economic development project. Through the process it flourished with the realization that this one project benefited many different stake holders.

The City saw the opportunity to enhance public services and dramatically reduce the cost of delivery. The digital divide gap would be drawn much closer, creating universal opportunities for the community, small businesses would benefit from improved connectivity and reduced cost, educational institutions would be able to enhance learning and visitors would have more opportunities and choices.

Not to mention providing unique services, like ambulance telemetry, enhanced first responder support, filing in-field inspection reports or a better real-time passenger information system instead of Chapel Hill’s expensive and flawed NextBus deployment.

I’ve held up St. Cloud as a model (“Wifi for a few dollars less…”) for what we could do in Chapel Hill. That is if we had the leadership and foresight to forge ahead.
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