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SF's Muni Mesh Mess

6:00 PM -- I have to admit there's been a whiff of schadenfreude about my coverage of the unfolding mess around San Francisco's wireless mesh-network deal. It's hard not to chortle when I see into what pretzelized shapes the various figures in this drama continue to contort themselves over a public network that, ultimately, most people in San Francisco couldn't care less about, because (as SF gadfly Kimo Crossman points out at every opportunity) they already live in one of the most WiFi-intensive cities in the world, where every café, ballpark, and bathhouse has its own free hotspot. (See Criticism Mounts in SF Muni Deal.)

And of course there's the array of characters involved: the self-righteous supervisors, the outraged community activists who are Shocked! that there's some profit motive at work on the part of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK), the non-evildoers at Google, who are having more and more trouble hiding the fact that they wish they'd never gotten themselves into this thing, and Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has discovered that what he thought was an easy political score ("Companies join to provide free WiFi to city!") has become a contretemps of the highest order and a huge waste of time ("Companies join to rip off city!").

There's also the pleasure of seeing San Francisco, that bastion of oh-so-politically-correct thinking and oh-so-insufferable yuppies, unable to accomplish something that less glamorous cities already have: build a stinkin' wireless network. I mean, if Milpitas can do it, how hard can it be?

Now comes a report from Craig Settles, a fairly sufferable wireless consultant: "Muni Wireless Mobile Applications: A View from the Field," based on interviews with officials in 10 cities deploying mesh networks, including Boston, Tucson, and, yes, Milpitas. It finds that, "digital inclusion" notwithstanding, the real benefit of such systems is not in providing public access: It's in providing mobile government workers with access to data and applications in the field.

"Visions of park-sitting, latte-sipping Web-surfing yuppies capture headlines," writes Settles, "but mobile workforce applications, asset management and portals capture the gold."

My response: "Well, duh."

Now let's see if the technophiles in San Francisco can figure this out in time to save their precious free-WiFi project…

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

FW Miller 12/5/2012 | 3:15:39 PM
re: SF's Muni Mesh Mess Least we forget, in 1992 the US Coast Guard adopted differential GPS, not as an aid to navigation for the public, but as an aid to the Coast Guard in the return of buoys to their chartered position after storms. Differential GPS's cost justification for the Coast Guard was based on time/labor savings. With differential GPS, the Coast Guard sets buoys much faster and more accurate than working with LORAN or sextants, providing greater safety for mariners. Just as the many benefits of DGPS were not a part of the original plan by the Coast Guard, one can not envisage all the benefits of muni wireless, both systems designed based on cost justification.
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