June 09, 2004

My Up and Coming Internet Nirvana

One of my local alt-weeklies Willamette Week tells us why if youíre a tech geek (or a blogger who makes his living as a telecommuting writer who relies on constant Internet access) there are some serious bennies to living in a thirdwave-anarcho-libertarian-semipinko-antiestablishmentarian place like Portland: Free wi-fi for everyone, baby. And it doesnít look to me like thereís jack the big corporate boys can do about it, though that won't stop 'em from trying.

And I donít mean itís going to be some ďfreeĒ taxpayer-funded government-run deal, I mean it in the sense that itís free to listen to the radio if you already own a radio. That kinda free.

Sign me up!

Actually, I donít have to sign up, all I have to do is wait. Excellent.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 9, 2004 06:38 PM
Comments

You lucky bastid!
(that's East Coast for "'Tis such a blessing as befits a hail fellow well met" which is, I believe, what you say out West.)

Posted by: Jeremy Brown at June 9, 2004 07:39 PM

There is a new broadband service here in the Triangle area of North Carolina that covers most of the metro area of 3 counties.

It's not free, but it's supposed to work just about anywhere -- parks, cars, etc.

I have to think that's the future, not just WiFi.

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at June 9, 2004 07:41 PM

Jeremy,

When I say "too bad for you" on the West Coast, how does that translate into East Coast English? Please advise.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 9, 2004 07:47 PM

Just what, praytell, is "thirdwave-anarcho-libertarian-semipinko-antiestablishmentarian"ism? I mean, really, I'm a poli-sci nerd and this one's got even me stumped.

And don't anarcho-libertarian and pinko kind of majorly contradict one another? You're seriously gonna have to explain this one to me, Michael. Not that I'm saying free wi-fi, or a whole nation of free wi-fi for that matter, wouldn't be a wonderful thing.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at June 9, 2004 08:12 PM

You sure this isn't a bid to reduce traffic congestion?

Posted by: Doc at June 9, 2004 08:29 PM

Grant,

To answer your question: The "Third Wave" is a phrase coined by Alvin Toffler to describe post-industrial civilization. The first two waves were agricultural and industrial. If you haven't read his book of the same name, get it TODAY. You will love love love it, I'm tellin' ya. It's even more up your alley than it is mine. (Forget that Newt Gingrich is a big fan of Toffler. The guy is complicated, and neither left nor right politically. He is just himself.)

As far as the rest of it goes, Portland is full of anarchists, libertarians, quasi-socialists, and your run of the mill anti-authoritarian types (like me, I guess). These are different kinds of people, obviously, but we get along and the city works very well with all these influences pushing it in those various directions all at the same time. What you get is stuff like free wi-fi for everyone, which seems socialist on the surface, but is functionally somewhat libertarian and very third wave. Read the article, you'll see what I mean.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 9, 2004 08:50 PM

Not to sound luddite-hypochondriacal here, but have you ever stopped to ponder how many cell phone calls, radio talk shows (Rush and Franken simultaneously!), tv sitcoms, CB trucker chats, HAM radio UFO sightings, are pulsing through your gray matter at any given moment?

We are in a post-modern igneo-spectral Pompeii, with electromagnetic-Vesuvian photon lava burying us in invisible information.

And now Portland wants to increase your ether-exposure with Why-fie. Possibly beyond the EPA's RDA. Shudder.

Just having fun with neo-lexical-hyphen-coinage.
;)

Posted by: Bleeding heart conservative at June 9, 2004 09:39 PM

Michael:

What other books do you recommend? It would be cool if you'd set up an official list.

Posted by: jjim at June 9, 2004 09:45 PM

BHC,

You're just jealous 'cause you live in Seattle!

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 9, 2004 10:11 PM

Michael,
Not necessarily 'official list', but I find the works of Negroponte to be VASTLY enlightening re the societal impacts of broadband access;

and highly recommend a book written by my roommate's brother, Theodore Nelson, called "Computer Lib/Down the Computer Priesthood"

And Concur yr analysis re: Alvin Toffler. GOOD read!

Posted by: Sharps Shooter at June 9, 2004 10:20 PM

Jjim,

Recommended nonfiction books:

The Third Wave, by Alvin Toffler
Nonzero, by Robert Wright
Terror and Liberalism, by Paul Berman
Home from Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler
Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, by David Remnick
Koba the Dread, by Martin Amis
Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, by Peter Maass

All those books but one, by the way, are written by atypical left-of-center thinkers. They are all intellectual anchors for me on various subjects from politics, economics, civilization, urban studies, and foreign policy.

Toffler and Wright wrote about the epic changes taking place in post-industrial civilization, Paul Berman wrote about the 80-year long ongoing struggle between liberalism and totalitarianism, James Howard Kunstler wrote about the hell of modern suburbia and post-WWII urban planning, David Remnick wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning story of the disintergration of the Soviet Union, Martin Amis wrote about Stalinism and its apologists, and Peter Maass wrote the most-gripping book I've read (and I've read a pile) about Bosnia and the moral imperative for armed intervention against fascism.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 9, 2004 10:23 PM

Wow, Totten is an anti-authoritarian type who supports the authoritarian type administration America has ever...produced. I'm impressed. The disconnect between your actions and your thought are positively...Bushitarian.

Posted by: saag paneer at June 9, 2004 10:25 PM

Michael, East Coast for "too bad for you" and "You're just jealous 'cause you live in Seattle!" -- "Yup, I am a lucky bastid." And you are.

Posted by: SM at June 9, 2004 10:34 PM

saag,

You don't know jack about my politics, obviously. I agree with George W. Bush about....let's see....one thing.

I voted for the "Howard Dean" candidate for mayor a few weeks ago. I didn't write about it here because no one would care.

You also prove yourself to have not studied many other presidents, except maybe for Clinton, if you think Bush is the most authoritarian president in more than 200 years. For God's sake, even my hero president FDR was far more authoritarian. He put people in CAMPS. (But I love him despite that and other failings.)

Now stop being a troll. Or be gone. Thank you.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 9, 2004 10:36 PM

And I don’t mean it’s going to be some “free” taxpayer-funded government-run deal, I mean it in the sense that it’s free to listen to the radio if you already own a radio. That kinda free
**************************************************
Uh Uh not that kind of free. Someone has to pay for the hardware, someone has to pay for the maintanence, the bandwidth has a value.

One more tax bill folks and welcome to civil servant tech support. ;-)
Don't like the service and want to switch? Too bad no one to switch to, no private commercial entity can compete with the government if they allow the public fee free (?) access.

What exactly is libertarian about giving the government that much control over the internet?

To me it looks like bait. Nice juicy bait and it may succeed.

What you are talking about is EXACTLY a "taxpayer-funded government-run deal"

Posted by: Dan Kauffman at June 9, 2004 10:37 PM

Nicholas Negroponte? "Being Digital"?

Excellent reading. And for a change of pace but staying in the same theme (if not genre) feast your eyebulbs on Gibson's works... "Burning Chrome"

Posted by: Eye Opener at June 9, 2004 10:38 PM

Dan,

Eh? Did we read the same article?

Money quote:

They want it done cheap. Marshall Runkel, aide and wireless point man for Commissioner Sten, estimates that if the WiMAX and supporting wi-fi set-ups work, wireless could blanket the downtown core for about $500,000. Later this summer or early this fall, the steering committee expects to start looking for private partners to build, run and probably own a citywide wireless network. A private company would benefit from streamlined city regulations, access to public property and the city's political backing. It would offer free access but could make money by charging for faster, deluxe connections.

That's not a tax-payer government-run deal.

Also, if you live here or read the piece, you probably know that Portland is the most wi-fi accessible city in the country. It's totally decentralized and hot spots are already everywhere and free.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 9, 2004 10:45 PM

"We are in a post-modern igneo-spectral Pompeii, with electromagnetic-Vesuvian photon lava burying us in invisible information"...

I don't really have anything constructive to say about this sentence. No thoughts. Nothing to add. Just thought it was a cool enough string of words that it bares repeating.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at June 9, 2004 11:27 PM

Oh, and PS...

I would have cared enough to hear about why you decided to vote for the "Howard Dean" candidate, Michael. It kind of struck me as a surprise to hear that. Seems out of character.

Or maybe when it only comes down to sheer domestic issues and everything else is off the table, you're pretty much in line with Howard Dean. How very Scoop Jackson of you, my friend.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at June 9, 2004 11:32 PM

Grant,

Portland doesn't have a foreign policy.

All the new ideas that turned Portland from a dreary backwater to a hip, wealthy, cutting age Third Wave city came from the left. The political right has done nothing but bitch about all of it without proposing any constructive alternative whatsoever, and apparently without noticing that Portland now rocks instead of sucks. (They remind me of the Democrats on foreign policy right now.) They hate everything I love about this place. They complain about the light-rail train system, they complain about New Urbanism, they complain about the anti-sprawl Urban Growth Boundary. I'm not voting for that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 9, 2004 11:51 PM

PS - They don't bitch about the influx of high tech industry. No one does. That's where our money comes from. High tech companies like to have offices here because Portland has a smart well-educated population, and it's also easy to hire people who live somewhere else because when they say "move to Portland" potential employees are more likely to say "okay." When I lost my day job a month ago I got an offer for another one, but I would have to move to Houston. No offense to anyone from Texas, but that just was not going to happen.

The reason we have lots of smart and savvy people here is because the quality of life is high and lots of educated professionals moved here from other places. When I was a kid, it was a different story.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 10, 2004 12:15 AM

I'd give my left nut for a light-rail system in Indianapolis.

Wherever I move to for Grad School...it's gotta have better public transit than where I'm at now. And it's a bit of a deal-breaker, I'd even say (now that I don't have a car).

Posted by: Grant McEntire at June 10, 2004 12:35 AM

Michael:

About the book dealing with urbanism -- does, as a solution, it lean towards going back to pre-WWII urabn desing, or New Urabanism?

Thank you for the suggestions! Any more?

Posted by: jjim at June 10, 2004 01:23 AM

Jjim: does, as a solution, it lean towards going back to pre-WWII urabn desing, or New Urabanism?

Yes.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 10, 2004 01:29 AM

The wi-fi connects to the Internet backbone. The costs of the backbone, and of the connection, have to be borne by someone. It ain't "the little switch run by faith / and the fiber ring run by the glory o' God."

Possible ways of deferring these costs:

a)User fees
b)Advertising
c)Government subsidies

Posted by: David Foster at June 10, 2004 08:32 AM

Jiim - ok, I'll bite... what do you consider the difference between New Urbanism and "pre WWII urban design?" If you mean the Urban Removal phase of our history... the Robert Moses ilk, that was mostly post WWII, no?

Mike - listen, Comcast already hinted at their response in the article. They will can or cap broadband access to any user who shows more than one macaddress on the system... they called it a "competitive response". PTP would do better to keep going with their smaller guerrilla movement of many small local hotspots... with that model they really could blanket the city on the sly - they very nearly have already.

Posted by: sean at June 10, 2004 08:47 AM

[FDR] put people in CAMPS.

Bless you, MJT. The next time someone brings up Padilla I will lead them on a Socratic questioning model an remind them of thousands of INNOCENT Japanese-American citizens in internment camp... without trial. Meanwhile, Bush is hitler for the FBI locking up a TERRORIST.

Posted by: Bleeding heart conservative at June 10, 2004 09:40 AM

Nobody gets my left nut, regardless. I would, however, be real happy if the money which has been spent on studies to try to prove that an inflexible, capital-intensive transportation system would be good for Milwaukee had instead been spent on saving our highway system and on improving our bus lines.

The popular notion that my opposition to light rail is somehow racist is one of the biggest mysteries of my entire life.

Posted by: triticale at June 10, 2004 10:35 AM

triticale: The popular notion that my opposition to light rail is somehow racist is one of the biggest mysteries of my entire life.

Who says that? I love light rail, but that's one seriously sad argument against its opponents.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 10, 2004 10:38 AM

Do these light rail systems have dedicated right-of-ways, or do they mix with car and bus traffic in classic streetcar fashion? If the latter, what's the point?

Posted by: David Foster at June 10, 2004 11:13 AM

David,

We have both light-rail and streetcars. The light-rail is for commuters, and the streetcar just toodles around the downtown area.

The point is that a LOT of people will ride a train/streetcar who won't ride the bus because the train is nicer, more dignified, and faster. People ride the bus if they have to, and ride the train because they want to.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 10, 2004 11:32 AM

On the Wi-Fi theme, people in the Personal Telco group in Portland have been pushing for the Library system to offer free Wi-Fi connections. It depends partly on the Library's concern for liability, but I think it could happen in the next year. There's pressure from within the Library system for the same. I think that would be great.

As an aside, since it came up in this thread, I think I prefer the streetcar model in Portland. I like the flow of traffic, rather than the MAX (light-rail) model of restricting traffic on it's tracks. I believe the streetcar was quite a bit cheaper than MAX has been, as well. I ride both, fairly often.

Regardless, I ride the bus most often, since it's the most convenient to my commute.

Posted by: Hagen at June 10, 2004 01:09 PM

Quick aside: shouldn't that be "Nerdvana"?

Posted by: Mark Poling at June 10, 2004 02:54 PM

Dan,

Eh? Did we read the same article?
Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 9, 2004 10:45 PM
**************************************************
If it was this one we did.

COVER STORY
6/9/2004
Free for All

But maybe our attention was caught by different parts?

You seemed to be riveted on the "Free" part what popped out at me was.

"For free.

It's not just some techno-commie pipe dream. Portland State and Oregon Health & Science University are funding the Box, which they installed this spring, to gauge how strong and long its signal can go. The city of Portland is watching eagerly."

Funded by the State? That is not free. You pays as a user or a taxpayer.

"Behind the experiment lies a radical notion: that the Internet is as important to Portlanders as water, power or paved streets. In other words, in the 21st century, the right to Google is as fundamental as the right to an education.

"The Internet should work more like a public road and less like an expensive health club," says City Commissioner Erik Sten."

Been a long time since there were privately owned roads. ;-) There are privately owned power companies, do privately owned water companys exist?

"While debate rages on over who should run Portland General Electric, the city's most prominent power company, some are thinking about the utility of tomorrow: a cloud of wireless Internet access over Portland, run for the public's benefit."

At the publics expense?

A private company would benefit from streamlined city regulations, access to public property and the city's political backing. It would offer free access but could make money by charging for faster, deluxe connections.

That's not a tax-payer government-run deal

The pseudo free part is, Oh I see, the deluxe connections will subsidise the free part and the free part will eliminate any commercial non publicly sponsored competition?

Posted by: Dan Kauffman at June 10, 2004 03:54 PM

Dan,

Well, Comcast says they will have a "competitive response." Sean (above) thinks they mean they'll act like a 900 pound gorilla and stomp free wireless flat. I don't think so.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 10, 2004 05:45 PM

Sean (above) thinks they mean they'll act like a 900 pound gorilla and stomp free wireless flat. I don't think so.
**************************************************
I don't think so either, no way a private company can compete with a government sponsored enterprise which has no end user fees. Which is exactly why I do not like the total concept.

First eliminate competion, then exercise control.
When that is done in the private sector it is called a monopoly and is illegal. I do not support that in the public sector just because someone tells me that their hearts are pure. ;-)

I prefer commercial competition and the marketplace.

Posted by: Dan Kauffman at June 10, 2004 09:19 PM

All the new ideas that turned Portland from a dreary backwater to a hip, wealthy, cutting age Third Wave city came from the left.

You really believe Portland is hip, wealthy, and cutting edge? Compared to what, Salem?

I haven't seen anybody use the term "hip" in a serious way in a while, so I don't know what that could possibly mean, but your other reflections are surprising. Doesn't Portland have one of the highest rates of unemployment in the nation, and aren't the tech companies taking cutting-edge development out of Portland (actually, out of Hillsboro and Beaverton, since Portland proper is a high-tax socialist ghetto)?

Intel, for example, has been moving its WiFi people from Hillsboro to San Diego, it's new US center for wireless.

But in any event, only wealthy hipsters can afford to have the government provide them with their Internet hookup, so you may be right after all. But free WiFi has already been underway in Frisco and Austin for a while now, so Portland is just playing catch-up, once again.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at June 14, 2004 04:37 PM

Took me a while to get back here. The "opposition to light rail is racist" argument is specific to Milwaukee, and comes from the decidedly leftist Shepard Metro weekly and others of that ilk. The succesfull effort to remove the lily-white head of the County Board for cronyism and an incredibly sweetheart pension deal received the same label.

As far as I can tell the logic is
Anyone who opposes what we support is a right wing conservative.
Right wing conservatives are racist.
Therefore anyone who opposes what we support does so for racist reasons.

The light rail system proposed for Milwaukee would have connected the somewhat integrated upscale East Side to downtown, but would not have done the same for the somewhat integrated (more black, less affluent) West End where I live. The system I understand was supposed to get the nod would have been paralyzed by a typical Milwaukee winter. In the meantime the regular bus system which serves all the people of Milwaukee county could use the money which keeps being spent on "studies" intended to promote light rail.

Posted by: triticale at June 14, 2004 06:22 PM
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