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Creating a City-Owned Internet Service Provider

By Ken Krayeske

October 10, 2013

Hartford needs to create a municipal internet service provider, much like the City of Wallingford owns an electric company.

This has two amazing benefits. First, we eliminate our reliance on major multinational corporations and localize our internet economy. Second, we eliminate the option these multinationals have in seeking to commercialize bandwidth and control content by prioritizing bandwidth space.

First, let's remove the monopolists from the Hartford market. Internet should be available for under $25 a month. Anything more is unaffordable for most of Hartford.

Since my wife and I moved into our new condo on Atwood Street, we have had nothing but bad luck with obtaining internet service. I am certain my experience cannot be unique, and others have suffered from a lack of internet access.

AT&T took more than a month to install U-Verse, and once installed, it worked less than not. Five different repairmen left us three different Motorola modems, two of which sit in boxes in my garage taking up space. AT&T forgave installation costs because it took so long to get right.

Yet my internet service was so strange, I couldn't help but think my internet was monitored under some NSA program not yet revealed by Edward Snowden. We could get a handshake, and when googling, say, “chicken”, I'd get a browser window full of up-to-date search results.

But when I went to click through a link to read outside content like Cooking.com's grilled honey teriyaki chicken recipe, a message from AT&T on my browser window said my connection failed, and I had to reset the modem. It made no sense.

I wondered if it was because we bought the cheapest $25 DSL service. Frustrated, I canceled the service. The telephone to AT&T to end the relationship took more than 25 minutes. I've had shorter break-up conversations with ex-girlfriends.

Next, we inquired with Comcast. They want $95.00 or so a month for cable internet and television service. The problem there: we do not have a television in our new house. So why pay for cable TV service we won't use?

Next, my wife found a Direct TV booth at a fair. They said for $54.00 or so a month, a bargain, we could have internet and Cable TV. At that price, I'll deal with the TV since it is half what Comcast was.

But we live in a historic home, so we could not find an uninterrupted place to mount a satellite dish that could point south-west as required.

I asked the Direct TV guy about Charter.net or other providers. Not a lot of them come into the City. I used to have Earthlink DSL at Laurel Street, but Earthlink had to use AT&T hardware and switching stations.

The Direct TV guy said the only option left was Comcast, or “Crapcast”, as he called it. Oddly enough, Direct TV uses Comcast hardware and bandwidth. How do I know this? We received a Comcast modem in the mail last night.

I throw my hands in the air and cry “Mercy” from the hands of the Interweb gods!

I've considered putting a hotspot on my smart phone for $40 a month, but then friends have confirmed I am not the only one who gets phantom rings in his legs, even if my phone is not in my pocket.

Dismissing the health concerns about the damage the microwave frequencies utilized by cell phones may cause to the human body is difficult. So I am wary to activate even more strange electromagnetic waves from my cell phone around my person.

Although, this may be a misplaced concern, since those waves are already active around me.

The other issue with the $40 a month phone-hotspot service is that it only exists where my phone is. If I am away, and my phone is with me, then my wife, who may be home, won't have internet access. Putting a hotspot on her phone would cost another $40 a month, which makes internet $80 a month. Still less than Comcast, but reliant on smart phones, which have drawbacks.

All of this left me pondering whatever happened to Eddie Perez's amazing idea to bring internet to every Hartford resident?

In hindsight, it was a brilliant idea: bridge the digital divide to make wireless internet accessible free to anyone within the borders of our fair capital city.

Perez, as human and fallible as he was, showed vision for Hartford in his leadership capacity. I do not want this to sound like Governor Dannel Malloy's recent laurels to convicted, disgraced ex-governor John G. Rowland. Malloy patted him on the back at a Waterbury Chamber of Commerce dinner last week.

After my conversation with Eddie Perez at his new insurance business, Seguros, on Park Street, I know we will never see eye-to-eye on issues. The verdict on his tenure as Mayor is as Chairman Mao said about the French Revolution: It's too early to tell.

At this early stage, though, Perez stands above current leadership as he at least had vision like free wireless internet. Nor can I munch on popcorn and watch the train wreck of current leadership at Kevin Brookman's We The People blog because I don't have stupid internet.

Perez's crusade for free internet fell victim to three main things, at least in his eyes: the lack of money, Hartford's outdated technology, and his distractions, as he called his criminal prosecution in this morning's interview.

The idea, based on work from a contractor who responded to the City's RFP, was to use the City's existing communications backbone for free wireless. Perez said they tried two neighborhoods, downtown and Blue Hills.

Downtown, being so densely packed, used the fire department antennas to broadcast without problem. Perez said he believed the system still works now.

Blue Hills, though, was too spread out, with too many buildings blocking signals that grew weaker with distance.

When the Perez administration sought to examine other options, with maybe new consultants and different hardware, Eddie ran into his troubles. He did say hardwiring an internet delivery service was too expensive.

But, since most people are paying for internet, suppose we created a municipally owned internet service provider, like Wallingford's electric company? Wallingford pays cheaper rates for electricity than CL&P customers, and doesn't lose service.

Why can't we do the same with the internet? We could all join together to help create a reliable, civically-owned service that is not subject to the whims of Wall Street.

Until then, anyone got any ideas on a good internet service provider in Asylum Hill?

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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