Go Wireless ||
By offering wireless Internet to residents, cities across the United States
are joining in the growing telecommunications battle over the future of the Internet.
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For many in the United States, a high-speed Internet connection is becoming
a way of life.
broadband or high-speed Internet connections that were once found only in universities
and businesses can now be found in more than 37 million locations, including homes,
libraries and schools. According to the Federal Communications Commission, this
number is up from only 7 million in 2000.
Currently the U.S. Congress and
giant telecommunication and Internet content providers are debating how to upgrade
the nation's communications infrastructure to accommodate the growing demand for
high-capacity Internet connections.
In most communities across the country
people can only subscribe for a high-speed Internet connection through their cable
or phone company. Many believe that this "broadband duopoly", or dual
monopoly, is responsible for the high cost -- at least $35 a month -- of broadband
across the country.
In an effort to narrow this digital divide, communities
and cities across the country are turning to a wireless alternative.
if by land, two if by air|
Most Internet users access
the World Wide Web through a landline. Landlines directly connect individual computers
to an underground network of wires that branch from a central trunk. These connections
are owned and operated by telephone and cable companies.
Because of the
high cost of installing this infrastructure, landline Internet connections are
usually found in large cities and suburbs where Internet users live close together.
Internet uses antennas to broadcast and receive signals that provide
Internet to users without the use of wires; since wireless networks
require less physical infrastructure they are comparatively inexpensive
to set up.
receive their signal from a large wired source, similar to the landlines. But
instead of passing this signal along via wires, the antenna, or node, broadcasts
the signal to nearby computers.
This wireless technology, known as wireless
fidelity or WiFi, first became popular in coffee shops, colleges, offices and
WiFi to more users |
recent years the development of wireless mesh networks has made it possible to
provide wireless Internet access across a larger area.
Mesh networks use
nodes to repeat the wireless signal to other nodes. These nodes create a tightly
knit and flexible network that can cover a wide area. Nodes on mesh networks are
programmed to find the quickest route to all the nearby nodes. So if some of the
nodes are damaged in a storm and go offline, the network can compensate for this
loss and automatically shift the data flow.
Because mesh networks are relatively
cheap, a large number of communities have built WiFi networks that are free to
the public. These free WiFi community networks can be found in places like Austin,
Texas; Lawrence, Kan.; and Champaign-Urbana, Ill.
Sascha Meinrath started
the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network, or CUWiN, in 2000. Originally,
he planned to make the local school's Internet connection available to students
at home after school hours.
wireless technology allowed the organizers to cover a large portion of the city,
including the college campus and local library.
Meinrath said the local
WiFi network is a common good, in the same way a park benefits everyone.
Anaheim, Calif. was the first major city in the country to be completely covered
by WiFi. The home of Disney Land, Anaheim has more than 300,000 residents and
is located 28 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
John Nicoletti, Anaheim's
manager of external affairs, said the city decided to offer wireless Internet
because it gives the city "a competitive advantage among cities."
also said he believes the lower cost of WiFi will "level the playing field
across all socio-economic status levels."
low cost of mesh networks enabled a local millionaire to throw a 700-square-mile
WiFi blanket over part of rural Oregon, providing access for people who never
had it before.
In Champaign-Urbana, the WiFi network has partnered with
the Tribal Digital Village to connect the Mesa Grande Reservation to the Internet
for the first time.
Matthew Rantanen of Tribal Digital Village says the
impact of WiFi on tribal communities, some of which don't even have telephones,
has been huge. Students are now able to pull information and pictures from the
Internet for their school reports. "Previously the children made drawings
and charts by hand," he said.
by Bryan Hayes for NewsHour Extra
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