Gavin Newsom’s wireless Edsel

Pub date July 17, 2007
WriterEric Dynamic
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION What would you think if somebody tried really hard to sell you an Edsel when you could clearly see a Lexus on the lot for the same price?

That’s what Mayor Gavin Newsom is doing with his "wi-fi everywhere" franchise deal.

The mayor put out a bid to get everyone in the city connected wirelessly at high speeds with a decent free service. What he has gotten instead is a deal that doesn’t guarantee anyone will be connected, with free service so slow even your dog wouldn’t use it.

Newsom wants reelection points for an approved deal now, knowing he won’t have to take reelection hits for the network when people see what they’re really getting:

If you want better than pedestrian speeds, you’ll pay fees comparable to those for DSL. But DSL is faster.

If you live above the second floor or away from the front of your building, or in various locations around the city, you won’t be able to get service at all. Too bad for you.

Service will drop out randomly without warning and may take days to fix.

Even only a few people at a time downloading things makes the service hideously slow for all of them.

The service uses the same frequencies as all the wireless gear people buy for common use. Use your wireless phone, ruin your Internet connection (and maybe your neighbor’s too).

Google and EarthLink get to snoop on you, your traffic, and your preferences. Good-bye, privacy.

The free service will operate at 300 kilobits per second — not even matching the 1,000 Kbps service that Google provides for free in Mountain View.

The underserved will remain underserved despite all claims to the contrary.

While Newsom has been pushing wi-fi, optical fiber has become really cheap. But Newsom is ignoring fiber in favor of his pet wi-fi project. Newsom’s friends have been attacking various supervisors for failing to pursue the wi-fi deal, but the supes are looking at fiber as an excellent reason to drop wi-fi entirely. Why? Here’s what you get with community optical fiber:

A connection of 1,000 megabits per second. Not 300 kilobits, not six megabits, but one gigabit.

Potential savings of $1,000 per year per consumer.

Near-absolute reliability.

No slowdowns due to congestion.

No snooping.

Anyone on the network can become a video producer for the entire world.

The elimination of monopoly control over our communication networks and a permanent commitment to network neutrality that can’t be overcome.

People have asked Newsom why he won’t offer free fiber connections to underserved community centers if he cares about them as much as he claims. He gives no answer: "Let them eat 300 kilobits."

It is the height of folly for a politician to pursue a bad promise to deliver poor services when the same politician could claim to be keeping up with the times and has something much, much better to offer. But that appears to be Newsom’s reelection strategy. He wants to give us an Edsel while pretending it really is better than the Lexus we can clearly see despite his best efforts to hide it. I’ll vote for the person who wants to sell me the Lexus. *

Eric Dynamic runs an ISP business in Oakland.