Community Wireless Networks : a case study of Austin, Texas
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Community Wireless Networks (CWNs) are a fairly new phenomenon. One of the first projects, NYC Wireless, started in 2001. These wireless initiatives are often a response to the lack of high-speed ubiquitous computing. Many of the first users, frustrated neighborhood “techies,” jerry rigged low cost WiFi antennas to rooftops and the side of buildings in order to access a high-speed broadband service. By doing this the wireless pioneers shared high speed wireless signals with neighbors and anyone within reach of their signal. As wireless computing became more popular, and it’s social and economic benefits more obvious, CWNs became an attractive alternative for many rural and low-income urban communities. Populations that had been overlooked by large cable and telephone service companies. The success of CWNs has paved the way for municipalities to build publicly supported wireless projects. Cable and telephone companies, major providers of broadband service, view municipal networks as unfair competition, and thus began the legislative battle over municipal wireless networks. The battle continues to wage. Cable and telephone companies have had some success at the state level and the federal debate is underway at this moment. Therefore, the purpose of this report is to understand the role Austin’s nonprofits play to ensure that high speed broadband access is made available for everyone and how lessons learned in Austin can be applied to other cities and locations around the country. The study found that Austin, compared to other cities of the same size, has a very small nonprofit community to addresses the issue of universal broadband access. Although the group is small, networking and mingling between community service organizations, the city government and wireless projects has created a community that effectively addresses the issue of high-speed access to the Internet.