Report on the Public Forum on Wireless in Minneapolis

Tonight I attended a public forum on Minneapolis’ wireless initiative. Here are some notes before bedtime.

Pilot Projects
The forum took place in the Brian Coyle Center in the Cedar-Riverside area. This area will be part of the wireless pilot project scheduled for April. US Internet, one of two finalists, will build this network. Earthlink, the other finalist, will build a wireless pilot in what’s known as ‘near north.’ Both of the pilot areas have a high percentage of low-income residents and people of color.

According to Bill Beck, Director of Business Development for the City of Minneapolis and one of the key non-elected players in the process, there may be no public access and there probably won’t be any testing from resident’s homes. It sounds like there will also be testing from Community Technology Centers. There will also be some kind of bridging to the U of M wireless network (part of the campus is in the Cedar-Riverside area). Hard to tell what that means. Will I have access since I work for the U.

The pilot project will run for sixty days.

Of course security came up and concerns weren’t answered very well. I’m still not clear as to the level of security that the company will provide. I think network traffic can be encrypted without much hassle over a wireless network but do you need an user name and password? I should know this stuff.

The Contract
A contract could be in place as early as June (of this year). That seem unlikely.

Community Benefits Agreement
This will be an agreement negotiated with the company to provide the City with wonderful benefits. Philadelphia is getting stuff like free hotspots around the city, a money deal to purchase computers and training for kids and low-income, low-cost subscription fees for low-income families, and 1,250 free wireless accounts.

Some other ideas for negotiation that came up at the forum were free wireless service for libraries, schools, parks, and public squares; profit sharing; and a home page on the system featuring the city.

The Alliance for Metropolitan Stability is preparing a draft agreement. As part of this process, they are meeting with community groups. I think they meet with the Longfellow group this Thursday.

The Alliance itself will hold its next meeting on March 16 at 5:30 at 2525 East Franklin Ave. (RSVP if you want pizza.) This is right down the block from me so I will try to make it.

In scouting around the Net with a URL gleaned from the meeting, I found this site for the Digital Access Project which is meeting at the Alliance’s offices and which has drafted a preliminary Community Benefit Agreement. Download it here (pdf). Plus there is a lot of other info on the Minneapolis initiative at their site.

As in lawsuits. There are some indications that Qwest is looking for a way to stop the wireless project here. Someone from the city and at the meeting said: “Qwest has got us in their crosshairs.”

About thirty people attended. There were about ten women. There were no people of color, as far as I can remember which was weird because outside the doors of the meeting, that’s about all there was.

Final Thoughts
There is hope for a good Community Benefit Agreement and there is some hard work being put towards it. However, gaining access to the process to provide feedback is not easy to do. I mentioned that there needs to be a centralized place on the Net to find this information. Like a feed!

At the moment, the City Council does not seem to be soliciting any feedback from the citizens. Let’s hope that changes. The digi-techy stuff is too new to entrust to a small group that maybe knows best. There’s just too much to read and keep up with. It takes multiple minds to follow the isssues, then think about them and then discuss them.

My Minneapolis Wi-Fi posts


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