Spring-Summer 2005

Houston's Technology for All Wireless Project and the National Municipal Wireless Debate

Municipalities involved with the development of community wireless projects and efforts to prohibit them are at the center of a national public policy debate that revolves around legislation under consideration in half a dozen states. Incumbent telephone providers seem to be behind much of the proposed legislation that could significantly impact the ability of community technology practitioners and other community groups to collaboratively work together with municipalities to bring wireless Internet services to low-income and under-resourced communities.

The Technology for All Wireless Project in Houston—TFA-Wireless—officially entered the fray on March 3 when the Houston Chronicle covered it and Texas legislative efforts to stop it and similar projects under the front page headline “Wireless Networks Don't Click with Some,” subtitled "Telecom bill would ban free Internet access like that in model East End program."

Within 72 hours the article was picked up by over 300 blogs.

TFA-Wireless is a collaboration between Technology For All (TFA), Rice University and the Houston Public library. The project is a part of the research undertaken by the Rice Networks Group led by Dr. Ed Knightly, who is Rice's lead investigator in the 100 x 100 project, "charting a path to 100 Mbps [very high speed] access from 100 million homes." TFA-Wireless utilizes mesh box technology enhanced by research led by Rice Ph.D. student Joseph Camp. TFA's initial vision of the wireless network was to enhance and extend TFA's job creation project funded by its 2003 Technology Opportunity Program (TOP) grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. TFA-Wireless will allow neighborhood clients of TFA that are trained and employed by TFA-JobTech to work from their homes.

Knightly, Camp, and I have written an article about the project, "Developing and Deploying Multihop Wireless Networks for Low-Income Communities," being presented at the June Digital Communities 2005 conference in Italy. It expands upon the societal objectives of the network, the joint technical and economic objectives that drive its architecture, and its future deployment, performance, and research challenges.

Will Reed Will Reed is President and Chief Executive Officer of Technology For All in Houston, TX.


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