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Craig Settles, Co-Director of Communities United for Broadband, says in a GigOm article today, that communities may want better broadband, but Google isn’t planning a nationwide roll out anytime soon. So cities are taking a page from Kickstarter to get their gigabit networks (or even community Wi-Fi).

The idea for using a crowdfunding platform as an investment engine for broadband solidified while Neighbor.ly CEO Jase Wilson served on a team, to help Kansas City plan for Google Fiber, reports Settles.

Neighbor.ly replaces Kickstarter’s “all or none” philosophy in which projects receive no funding if they fail to reach their fundraising goal in time, and relies on an “every dollar counts” approach. Whatever an organization raises by the deadline, it gets to keep. Juniper Gardens Apartments, a 390-unit complex that is part of the Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority and located in one of the poorest sections of Kansas City, Kan., is one of Neighbor.ly’s fundraising projects.

The nonprofit Connecting for Good builds wireless networks, secures computing equipment and provides digital literacy training for low-income communities. They wanted to install an indoor-outdoor wireless network at Juniper Gardens but needed to raise nearly $40,000.

The Neighbor.ly effort raised $34,500 and equipment manufacturer Ubiquiti made up the difference with an in-kind contribution of product.

The concept of non-profits funding cheap or free WiFi in apartments seems like a wonderful idea. But it’s no guarantee.

My adjoining apartment building, which is Section 8, was “unwired” by One Economy last year.

The Oregon program was funded with $1,139,200. The $1.1 million investment was supposed to bring 1,293 units of affordable housing in 7 housing projects in Portland. Five of the projects were with the Housing Authority of Portland, and 2 with Hacienda CDC.

That amounts to nearly $1,000 per apartment. The plan was to deliver 2 years of free Internet Access followed by affordable access ($10/mo) and a site-specific web portal.

After nearly a year’s delay, the building was “unwired” using Meraki gear and an ISP providing 8 DSL lines of 7Mbps each. Then, after barely a year of service and no warning, One Economy decided to shut down the “free” WiFi service.

One high ranking One Economy official (now laid off, along with ALL the Portland staff), told me that One Economy decided to shut down their US operations and move into international development. Their rationale: The FCC’s new program to fund cable internet access for $10/month (if you have kids in the school lunch program).

But our 80 unit building is 90% single occupancy. Virtually nobody qualifies.

Now nobody has “free” internet access. The backhaul connections were turned off, and the five Meraki plug-in hotspots on each floor are currently radiating interference to everyone.

What a piece of crap.

One Economy billed taxpayers nearly $1,000 per unit and bailed early. Now the Housing Authority of Portland has no interest in continuing the service — there’s no money in it for them.

I don’t know if any laws were broken, but it makes me wonder what happened to all the money One Economy received.


UPDATE: Tue, Jun 4, 2013

Sam,

Thank you for forwarding a link to your article in dailywireless.org. We are currently reviewing options related to the recent cessation of One Economy’s wireless internet services at Home Forward’s building in the Yard’s development. It is important to us to increase resident access to the internet whenever feasible.

Best,
Steve Rudman
Executive Director
Home Forward

Here’s the thing – anyone can do this. Put in a couple dozen Ubiquiti Unifi access points ($100 each), and feed each floor with 10 Mbps backhaul ($50/month). This is not rocket science.

Upfront costs might be $5K while monthly backhaul costs might be $250/month range. If 40 people (half the units), paid $10/month, that generates $400/month. The thing could be paid for in 2 years.

Why bill taxpayers $80,000 when empowered individuals could do the same thing for one tenth the cost? It’s a rip-off.

You don’t have to be a network guru. Tanaza, a vendor-agnostic solution, can cloud manage Wi-Fi Access Points. Tanaza’s cloud-based Wi-Fi management system has a simple, clickable interface. No expertise required. It can send an email alert if an AP dies.

Tanaza Powered APs such as Ubiquiti’s UniFi can embed the Tanaza Agent inside the firmware. They are monitored through a proprietary protocol that leverages keep alive-like packets. If the Tanaza Cloud Infrastructure stops receiving those packets, the device is considered off-line.

PowerCloud Systems, a Qualcomm and PARC-backed provider of WLAN-as-a-Service solutions, provides another WiFi-as-a-Service at low cost.

Yesterday I attended the grand opening of a new Portland startup incubator, in Northwest Portland.

Ted Wheeler, Oregon’s State Treasurer, was the guest of honor at the TiE Pearl launch, with venture capital leaders attending from Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

Wheeler explained that most states no longer seek to lure large companies. The logistics are now too expensive for most large companies to pick up and move to another state. The new thinking is to build-up each state’s own foundation of expertise, as exemplified by the dozen or so incubators now operating in the Portland Region.

Kelley Roy, Director of ADX, provides a DIY works space, and insight on the new economy at TED (above).

Perhaps affordable internet access could be a first step in creating a vibrant, grass-roots economy. But, if experience is any guide, don’t wait for any government plan.

Just do it!

Portland Startup Incubators include the Portland Incubator Experiment, Nike+ Accelerator, run by TechStars, PSU Business Accelerator, Upstart Labs, TiE Pearl Incubator, Oregon Technology Business Center, Cambia Health Solutions, Tech4Change! and TenX. Co-working space for startups in Portland includes NedSpace, Collective Agency, Beam Development, General Automotive and ADX.

Startup PDX Challenge may winnow some 240 applicants down to 16 semi-finalists. Six will receive a $10,000 working capital grant, a full year of rent-free office space in Portland’s Produce Row.

The Technology Association of Oregon, Oregon Entrepreneur Network, Oregon Angel Fund, Rogue Venture Partners and Portland Seed Fund are some organizations that provide investment capital and advice for a variety of incubators. The Portland Seed Fund portfolio includes dozens of successful startups. Portland Development Commission sponsors a Startup PDX Challenge, Portland State sponsors a CleanTech Challenge and OSU sponsors a Venture Accelerator. Portland Seed Fund, alone, has invested $1.35 million in 36 companies which have created more than 200 jobs, with 25 of those companies raising more than $23 million in capital.

Silicon Valley’s incubator, Y Combinator, has become the model for many incubators. They run a three-month program for startups to polish their products for presentation to the investor community. Twice a year startup incubators generally invest a small amount of money ($14-20k + a small ownership percentage) in a large number of startups. The startups work intensively to refine their product and pitch to investors.

Events like Portland’s Demolicious, the Seed Fund Demo Day, and Portland Startup Weekend show off the best projects to investors and the general public.

Angels and Mentors have facilitated funding for Athletepath, Cloudability, Chirpify, Elemental Technologies, Geoloqi, GlobeSherpa, New Relic, Puppet Labs, Urban Airship and Zapproved among many others.

Startups tend to build on inexpensive open source solutions like Linux, MySQL, Apache, OpenStack and high-level programming languages like Ruby on Rails and Python. Portland startups like Puppet Labs helps companies like Twitter deal with their massive farms of servers.

HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and PHP make webapps interoperable. PhoneGap makes them mobile.

Responsive Web Design allows web layouts to display differently for mobile, tablet or desktop. CSS3 media queries help this process, delivering different CSS rules depending on the circumstances.

It’s time to get on this bus.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Spotlight Mobile’s Meridian: Indoor GPS, Hotspot 2.0 for Museums & Transit, Indoor Location Without GPS, Qualcomm & Cisco Team for WiFi Location, Real-time Transit Maps, Apps for The City, Free Mobile Development for Cities & Governments, Augmented History, Public Safety 2.0, Mobile Portland Demos, Developer Contests, Geo Tours, Where Conference 2012, Mobile Demolicious in Portland, Geolocation Takes Off , Portland Mobile Developers, Google Crisis Response Mapping, Walmart Labs Buys Mobile Develeoper Small Society , Spotlight Mobile’s Meridian: Indoor GPS, Mobile Portland Demos, Seattle’s South Lake Union: Tech Hub, Google Maps Indoors, Where 2.0 – 2011, Nokia: Location Via White Space, Indoor Location Alliance Formed, Cisco Small Cells, AT&T: 40,000 Small Cells, Microsoft Sponsors Free WiFi in NYC & SF, Chicago Announces Free WiFi in Parks,

One Response to “Kickstarter for Fiber Nets?”

I am with Connecting for Good, the nonprofit mentioned in Craig Settles’ story. We found the most economical way to deliver free bandwidth to the low incomes neighborhoods we’re working with was to become a wireless ISP. We used equipment donated to us by One Economy and provide the backhaul ourselves. Using point-to-point technology with mesh networks, our cost of providing true broadband to every apartment is about $9.00 per year household.

Here’s a photo diary of one of our builds at a 168-unit Section 8 housing facility in Kansas City, KS – http://www.connectingforgood.org/rosedale-ridge-photo-diary/

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