Homeless Mecca To Become Wireless Brigadoon

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Last year, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced his vision of providing free WiFi throughout the city, I scoffed. Now Newsom is setting out to prove me wrong. (I should say he's trying to prove me wrong for a second time, because I also thought Gav and Kimberly were a match made in Heaven.) "It is to me a fundamental right to have access universally to information," Newsom says, announcing that the city has received 24 bids to build a municipal wireless network.

The most prominent bid has come from Google, and Newsom says taxpayers will pay "little or nothing" of the $8 million to $16 million cost. No word on whether it will be WiMax or some other wireless model, but since they seem to be intent on this thing, best of luck to them. I still think the plan will founder—if nothing else, on the likelihood that the network will support itself through some kind of targeted advertising. If you don't have to suffer through advertising for such fundamental rights as food and water, why should you have to do that for free internet access? I would not be at all surprised if our board of supes let this plan die out of some undergraduate horror of corporate promotion (not that letting it die would necessarily be a bad thing).

In a skeptical column on the plan, Debra J. Saunders has the insight and good breeding to cite my earlier article on SFWF.

And a coalition of EU governments are looking to take control of root servers, raising the question of whether there will be an internet by the time Frisco gets its network up.

NEXT: This Lathe Is Mine

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  1. “If you don’t have to suffer through advertising for such fundamental rights as food and water, why should you have to do that for free internet access?” Huh? I hadn’t actually realized that adverstising for food and water, or advertising at a supermarket, was banned. But ok.

  2. If you don’t have to suffer through advertising for such fundamental rights as food and water, why should you have to do that for free internet access?

    If I could meet my food and water needs simply by watching a couple commercials, I’d have a lot more time on my hands to mess around on the Internet. (I don’t have the kind of job which allows me to post here from 9 to 5. [Not that I’d actually be happy with such a job.]

    (Which reminds me. Don’t you people ever work? The myth is that Americans work so much more than Europeans. You sure could have fooled _me_.)

    ?

  3. Work? Why would anyone do such a thing? It sounds terrible.

  4. If Google is offering free internet access to all city residents, why not accept it? Isn’t Google part of the private sector? I predict the Bored of Stupidvisors will nix this one quick as you can say “corporate greeeeeeeed.”

    But my real concern is this: Tim, there is no such city as “Frisco.” Now go wash your mouth out with soap.

  5. Of course, if you have a “right” to wireless Internet service, then you must by definition have a “right” to a free laptop with which to access it.

    Think Newsom can convince Google to provide those too?

    San Francisco Mayor: Free Wi-Fi a “Civil Rights Issue”

  6. If you give a vagrant a Mecca, pretty soon he’s going to want the Internet…

  7. Justin, I’ve got Hinckle on my side. Here he is calling it Frisco at Antiwar.com.

  8. If you don’t have to suffer through advertising for such fundamental rights as food and water, why should you have to do that for free internet access?

    I honestly don’t get what point you’re trying to make here, Tim. The operative word is free. That’s why I don’t suffer through ads when I watch a movie on HBO, but I do when I watch a movie on network TV.

    (Not that I actually watch movies on network TV. But you get my drift.)

  9. “It is to me a fundamental right to have access universally to information,” Newsom says, announcing that the city has received 24 bids to build a municipal wireless network.

    Good for Google if they can do this and make money off of it…but, with regard to Newsom’s comments..don’t they have libraries in San Francisco? At UCSF maybe? And maybe even City of San Fran public libraries? With computers? And internet access?

    And a coalition of EU governments are looking to take control of root servers, raising the question of whether there will be an internet by the time Frisco gets its network up.

    Holy shit, Batman! But can’t they just build their own “root servers”? And can’t our government get out of the “root server” business and just run their servers? Isn’t that the thing about the net – it’s decentralized?

  10. they have libraries in San Francisco? At UCSF maybe? And maybe even City of San Fran public libraries? With computers? And internet access?

    Your characterization makes it sound like Newsom is replacing physical libraries with a distributed information resource. Since the city is already in the library business, the wifi seems like a good idea, rather than an expansion of gov’t. That’s probably a good way to look at what is going on here.

    I think this is where some of the hardcore libertarians tell me how evil publically funded libraries are, but fie on that — I like’em and I am glad there are not big user fees, like with private libraries.

  11. Could someone explain to me what this root servers buisness is all about? How is the US Government at all in total control of the net? I thought a whole bunch of different people are?

    And how can the EU just lay claim to our servers?

  12. (so… many… links… so little time to read them…)

    Justin, I’ve got Hinckle on my side.

    Jeez, I only lived in SF for one year and even I knew you don’t call it that silly, made-up word.

  13. Am I the only one who finds wifi to be a luxury, not a public good?

  14. I need to move to San Francisco and demand my fundemental right to free beer.

  15. From a market dynamics perspective, it makes sense that citizens of San Francisco would want to deal with the WiFi providers in a more consolidated manner.

    They will tend to get a better deal (sounds like they already have!) than if they remain atomized and negotiate with the various WiFi providers separately.

    It would be nice if the consumers found a way to aggergate on their own, without help from the gov’t so that they can enjoy the great deals that aggeragtion potentially brings to the demand side of the market.

    Unfortunately, they didn’t and gov’t is stepping in to do the economically rational thing on behalf of the consumers. Instead of criticizing SF, anybody who is bent out of shape over this ought to be organizing private aggregations of consumers, so that we can show Newsom and his liberal city how smart and rational private sector consumers really are. If we don’t have anything like that to point to (and we don’t outside of a few coffeeshops), then the laff is on us.

  16. I don’t understand how the laff would be on us if Google provided free wifi throughout the city. Seems like the laff would be ont he cities without such awesomeness.

  17. Unless you know, everyone got onto the free wifi train and then the government (be it local or fed) tried to call jurisdiction over it since it coordinated the deal, and then imposed decency controls and the such.

    Sorta like how you can’t look at porn at the public library. Who wants to argue for public libraries now? No one i bet.

  18. I meant the laff is on us libertarians who could not marshall our consumers into economically rational units. It would the statists of SF that are doing the laffing.

  19. “Frisco” is also SO Colorado.

    http://www.townoffrisco.com/

  20. ARE there any acceptable abbreviations for the city in question? I have it on good authority that the use of either “Frisco” or “San Fran” brands one a complete loser in the eyes of those who decide such things.

  21. San Narcissco still fits the bill.

  22. i’m totally going to call the place sanfran [pause] frisco if i ever go there.

    unrelated: there was a leather group in sf that produced t-shirts about 10 years ago with the slogan “my heart is yours if you can reach it” on them. i want one of those real bad.

  23. Part of the problem with things like state-provided free wifi is that it severely reduces the incentive for anyone to invent or introduce anything new, since no matter how little you charge, it’s a huge marginal increase over “nothing”. France is a pretty good example of this kind of thing. They’ve lagged in Internet development partly because they already had the ubiquitous Minitel. I’m not trying to slam Minitel, because from all I’ve heard, it was pretty cool. But it’s obviously not the way of the future.

    BTW, I also see, from doing a little research, that the French government refused to do anything about pornographic Minitel services, arguing that that was parents’ responsibility. That’s surprisingly cool. Then again, this is the French we’re talking about…(and just try selling Nazi paraphernalia online.)

  24. that silly, made-up word.

    Exactly. That’s why I avoid all man-made words and use only organic words that evolved without human interference.

  25. Just as it’s only a matter of time before Google enters the S&P 500, it seems that with the decline of infrastructure cost, it’s only a matter of time before we’re all getting free access or the cost to us drops to practically zero.

    If wifi is gonna be free for all, why am I still paying $30+ a month for my cell phone service? And paying for cable tv? “Real” wifi (i.e. not crippled in some way with ads or slowness) is never going to be free. And the cost of providing a wireless network is never going to be zero, unless google comes up with a magical network that never breaks and never needs customer service.

  26. If you don’t have to suffer through advertising for such fundamental rights as food and water, why should you have to do that for free internet access?

    Obviously you haven’t scanned the coupons on the back of your supermarket register tape or cleaned the such-a-deals out of your water bill recently.

  27. If wifi is gonna be free for all, why am I still paying $30+ a month for my cell phone service? And paying for cable tv?

    Oligopoly. You seem to think your bills reflect the cost of providing the service. It is convenient for the wireless telephone and cable companies to have you think that. That don’t make it true.

  28. If you don’t have to suffer through advertising for such fundamental rights as food and water

    Every damn food drop in Afghanistan and New Orleans came with propaganda and the “USA” logo feces all over it.

  29. Every damn food drop in Afghanistan and New Orleans came with propaganda and the “USA” logo feces all over it.

    But that food was FREE. Hell, if advertisers want to give me a free house with ads plastered all over the inside walls, I’ll take it.

  30. Well, your cell phone bill may not reflect the actual cost (something like half of mine is taxes, anyway), but it reflects something of the cost. I’m always annoyed at people who say “XYZ will be too cheap to meter, so it will be free!” No, because if it’s too cheap to meter, it’s probably also going to be too unprofitable to build… (The usual comeback is “Then the government should build it! Oh, woe for our evil society which cares only for profit!” I don’t really have a good response for that, other than “If it’s so great, how come you’re not willing to pay for it? Don’t tell me you’re concerned with your evil profit or something…”)

  31. Okay, root servers. You use domain names to get to locations on the internet, but the applications you use need to map those names to the actual Internet Protocol (IP) addresses used to transport the data. E.g., you type https://www.reason.com and your browser connects to a server at IP address 204.200.197.158. The servers that store this mapping are Domain Name Servers and the process of finding an IP address for a domain name is a DNS Lookup.

    There are too many of these mappings to use a simple lookup table so (to really simplify things here) the domain name servers are set up in a hierarchy. If you want to know where https://www.reason.com is, you ask the nameserver that stores information about everything in reason.com. If you want to know where the nameserver that stores information about everything reason.com is, you ask the nameserver for that stores information about everything in .com. At the very top are the root nameservers, which store information about the nameservers for all the top-level domains like .com, .uk, .biz, etc.

    The root nameservers are run by a collection of US organizations like VeriSign, NASA, the DoD and others, under the direction of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit created under contract to the Department of Commerce. ICANN controls the top-level domains; any new TLDs — like .eu for the European Union or the proposed .xxx smut-ghetto — must be approved by ICANN. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that the United States has ultimate control over the entire internet namespace.

    From there, the current controversy should be obvious: other countries don’t trust ICANN to manage the namespace in an equitable way. There is good basis for this lack of trust given ICANN’s increasingly secretive and bureaucratic nature and its ties to the US government (who most recently have been trying to prevent the creation of the new top-level .xxx domain for fear it would look like a government endorsement of pornography).

    The concern is that “the rest of the world” might decide to set up their own root servers and either convince or force the ISPs in their jurisdictions to use those servers instead of the ones ICANN controls. This would be a technically trivial change at the server level, though coordinating the switch across the systems involved would be hellish. If this occurred and ICANN refused to participate, the end result would be an internet where “www.reason.com” could point to entirely different servers/entities depending on which root nameserver your ISP is using. Realistically this won’t happen — if the rest of the world switched to UN-run nameservers, most US-based Internet providers would follow. The alternative would be to risk losing any meaningful connectivity to the rest of the world.

  32. such fundamental rights as food and water

    Rights? I’ll remember that next time I’m lost in the desert and down to the last drops in my canteen — what do I do then, call the ACLU?

  33. Bahjeezus Lazlo, glad nobody asked you how they make bratwurst…

  34. Okay, root bratwursts. You use domain names to get to locations on the internet, but the applications you use need to map those names to the actual Internet Protocol (IP) addresses used to transport the data. E.g., you type https://www.reason.com and your browser connects to a bratwurst at IP address 204.200.197.158. The bratwursts that store this mapping are Domain Name bratwursts and the process of finding an IP address for a domain name is a DNS Lookup.

    There are too many of these mappings to use a simple lookup table so (to really simplify things here) the domain name bratwursts are set up in a hierarchy. If you want to know where https://www.reason.com is, you ask the namebratwurst that stores information about everything in reason.com. If you want to know where the namebratwurst that stores information about everything reason.com is, you ask the namebratwurst for that stores information about everything in .com. At the very top are the root namebratwursts, which store information about the namebratwursts for all the top-level domains like .com, .uk, .biz, etc.

    The root namebratwursts are run by a collection of US organizations like VeriSign, NASA, the DoD and others, under the direction of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit created under contract to the Department of Commerce. ICANN controls the top-level domains; any new TLDs — like .eu for the European Union or the proposed .xxx smut-ghetto — must be approved by ICANN. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that the United States has ultimate control over the entire internet namespace.

    From there, the current controversy should be obvious: other countries don’t trust ICANN to manage the namespace in an equitable way. There is good basis for this lack of trust given ICANN’s increasingly secretive and bureaucratic nature and its ties to the US government (who most recently have been trying to prevent the creation of the new top-level .xxx domain for fear it would look like a government endorsement of pornography).

    The concern is that “the rest of the world” might decide to set up their own root bratwursts and either convince or force the ISPs in their jurisdictions to use those bratwursts instead of the ones ICANN controls. This would be a technically trivial change at the bratwurst level, though coordinating the switch across the systems involved would be hellish. If this occurred and ICANN refused to participate, the end result would be an internet where “www.reason.com” could point to entirely different bratwursts/entities depending on which root namebratwurst your ISP is using. Realistically this won’t happen — if the rest of the world switched to UN-run namebratwursts, most US-based Internet providers would follow. The alternative would be to risk losing any meaningful connectivity to the rest of the world.

  35. beer sauce (for Sheboygan brats):

    Melt butter in a big pan on low heat.
    Drop in lots of sliced onions.
    When the onions are clear, pour in a vast quantity of good beer.

    When the bratwurst are properly grilled, drop them into the sauce. Let them soak.

    Drop in the grilled hamburgers.

    Serve brats on a semel roll. Two per roll.

    Most people put mustard on them. Since I don’t like mustard (I had a traumatic experience with mustard when I was little), I use catsup.

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