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Freedom to Connect Panelists Probe Municipal Failures, Contemplate Lessons Learned

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SILVER SPRING, Md., March 31, 2009 – Not all attempts to deploy municipal wireless networks across the country were failures, panelists said at a packed Monday afternoon session of the Freedom to Connect conference here.

Rather, the speakers said, an attempt must be made to appreciation of the nuances of the experience.

Esme Vos, founder of the web site, said that public opinion had been too harsh on some of the city-sponsored networks in the United States.

The failures of Philadelphia and Earthlink, she said, could still offer vital lessons for the future, and were not without value. Additionally, wireless automated meter reading in municipalities was a vital development, she said.

Sascha Meinrath, research director at the New America Foundation, said that a more urgent question posed by the failures is “who will set forth a compelling alternative agenda to central mass media.”

Meinrath castigated broadband systems that do not meet the needs of the communities they purport to be serving.

Continued advocacy would be important in availing this technology to more people, he said, adding that “the right to communicate is an inalienable right to civil society.”

The critical question at the dawn of this century, he said, is who will control local connectivity.

He said America has a unique body politic, predicated on an engaging civil society and massive government intervention for major technological changes, though he added that there exist “cautionary tales” to learn from.

Novarum's Ken Biba said municipal failures were testament to “the impracticability of free lunch” and “the perils of technology hype.”

A new paradigm, he said, would require: investment, not freedom from cost; an aversion towards technological hype; trust, but verification; and competitiveness.

Aaron Kaplan, one of the founders of, a fully meshed and free wireless network in Vienna, Austria, shared the European experience. Vienna attempted to get things right at municipal levels through a call for research, public presentations competing ideas in telecommunications during the process of development and deployment.

DeWayne Hendricks, CEO of Dandin Group and  of Tetherless Access, said that reviews of the failures should be cognizant of the historical and regulatory environment, and an appreciation that “tools make rules.”

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