It seems time to open up the OneCleveland network vision of Cleveland Heights, to see if there is value for others

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 12/24/2006 - 03:02.

The other day I saw, in The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Crain's Cleveland Business, an announcement Case University is funding OneCleveland to put wifi in some high density, affluent commercial and residential rental and home ownership cores of Cleveland Heights. Justifying the expenditure, from Crain's: “Part of the entry into Cleveland Heights is that it’s really an extended community of Case Western,” said OneCommunity chief operating officer Mark Ansboury, and Cleveland Heights law director John Gibbon said. “It’s designed primarily as a trial for the business district, but it certainly will hit a number of residences, as well.” From the PD: "Lewis Zipkin, a major Cleveland Heights landlord" is qouted saying: "It's going to be a terrific benefit for me, my properties and the community". If I were a Case student or trustee, SBC/AT&T, the Cable company or a person living in a less affluent community, I'd have serious concerns about all of this. In fact, as my wife is a Case Ph.D. student being assessed $100s a year by Case for a technology fee, which it now seems is going to Cleveland Heights, I guess I have a right to be concerned myself.

From the PD: "The city (Cleveland Heights) will contribute up to $20,000 (according to Crain's, $17,000) to the project, which may cost $150,000 to $200,000, said Mark Ansboury of OneCleveland. Case Western Reserve University, which has many teachers and students who live in Cleveland Heights, will help with the balance, Ansboury said." So, my wife's Case University technology fee ia a direct payment to the city of Cleveland Heights for wifi services outside of her world - we live in Ohio City and there is no sign of OneCleveland over here, in this corner of the Case Community. And, bottom line, Cleveland Heights is not part of "Case Western".

I understand that when Case opened their new dorm in University Circle it sucked many Case students out of Cleveland Heights, pissing off rental landlords there, and I'm sure future developments around University Circle will drive more Case affiliates and Cleveland Heights residents to the Circle, but that does not make the lovely, wealthy and resource-rich Cleveland Heights suburb a victim needing support from an educational institution struggling in its own ways, nor a reason to toll students already paying top dollar for educations. Cleveland Heights needs to compete with sprawl, not University Circle and Cleveland. If there is an interest and the surplus wealth for Case to provide charity to inner-ring suburbs, I can offer many other suggestions for ways to spend $100,000s where the local residents and tax bases cannot pay the tolls of the new economy.

Further, there are private carriers well established and competing to provide cost effective telecommunications services to businesses, renters and property owners in Cleveland Heights, so how does the OneCleveland service fit with free market capitalism. I can't imagine there are many areas in the sectors planned for service by OneCleveland where there are not multiple people with broadband and wifi available at any time, creating a wireless cloud already. Knowing there is already high saturation, it is likely this service is not needed at all, in Cleveland Heights. If there are public access gaps, it would be a result of people with access points securing them rather than making them open to neighbors. An easy solution would be to encourage access point owners to open up access to neighbors - that can be done in controlled and secure ways, if the community wanted to be progressive. An example of a progressive community building a mesh broadband network environment is found in Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN), which is a world- leader in such grass-roots broadband community service and technology.

That is a model we are exploring in trying to help residents of underserved communities of East Cleveland and Cleveland secure access to broadband services, as carriers have underserved their neighborhoods, and poverty there is a significant issue. To see a corporate subsidy model for Cleveland Heights' prosperous core just doesn't make sense.

From the PD: "Cleveland Heights officials think wireless service can aid businesses in the Coventry and Cedar-Fairmount districts, draw quality tenants to dozens of apartments and add attraction to new townhouses. That is important to an inner-ring suburb trying to retain vitality." To me, this rings trite if not unethical - quality tenants in these spaces can afford $12.95 a month. I wonder what 10,000 Case students feel about paying for their toll. And, I wonder what the telcos, non-profits and entrepreneurs working in the free market of this space feel about all this.

On the positive side, I'd love to know what technologies, support and staffing strategies OneCleveland is using to build and maintain this community broadband network, and their business and sustainability models. Is this going to be a mesh network and how will it be designed and constructed? Who is providing and paying for installation, maintenance and tech support over the 18 month pilot? Who owns the hardware and bandwidth and determines how it will be used in the future? What are billing and pricing concepts for the future? Hard to imagine taking miles of core commercial property live without having answers to all these questions, and the rest of the region could benefit from the knowledge. If OneCleveland is one for community, there should be ways to leverage the benefits of the $1,000,000s the community has invested in them to leverage more economies of scale and intellectual property for those not within the OneCleveland community. I suppose that may be the next step, being some insight sharing on how OneCleveland is serving Cleveland Heights, and how that knowledge may serve those not served by OneCleveland.

Even if Case University is unlikely to buy any other communities broadband access, we could at least learn from the successes and failures of their investments in the community, as we work to help those outside the "extended community of Case Western" cross the digital divide. I'll work on setting that up.

Interesting link on MuniWireless from BFD

I saw today George Nemeth linked on Brewed Fresh Daily my article on Cleveland Hieghts WiFi strategy, and he has an great other suggested link to the MuniWireless site that suggests the new Democratic leadership has "plans to push legislation that will allow munis to have a “role to play where commercial operators don’t see an opportunity.”"A good example where I see the greatest need is East Cleveland.

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Cleveland Heights wireless already a cloud - city in a fog?

This afternoon, I did a test of Wifi networks in the neighborhoods where Case is paying OneCleveland to install community WiFi - I parked my can in over a dozen locations and searched for wifi networks and then attempted to connect with networks that were not encrypted. What I found is there is a high saturation of existing hotspots - a very dense wifi cloud is already in place throughout Cleveland Heights. In the commercial/residential areas, there are often dozens of hotspots. Most are encrypted and secured, but in every location I tried in the areas I understand OneCleveland is adding a wifi network I could find an open wifi hotspot and get online.

I made some other interesting observations. Many of the businesses on Coventry have visible wifi networks but do not make them open to the public - examples include Big Fun and Panini's. There are few free and open wifi hotspots clearly associated with businesses in Cleveland Heights - there is Caribu and I believe PBandJ may be Tommy's, but few businesses in Cleveland Heights are showing any business interest to provide WiFi to their customers and the public, raising the question why Case and the city government should be inclined to do that for them.

As you stray off Coventry into the areas I believe are most heavily populated by Case students - around all the Zipkin and Montlack multi-units on Hampshire and Lancashire, for example - the number of wifi hotspots skyrockets, but there are fewer networks open to the public - they do not share with others, raising the question why the public should in any way subsidize them with redundant free access.

If half the wealthy multiunit building owners in these neighborhoods would spend $20/month for a broadband connection and provide an open wifi signal in each building, there would be a complete free cloud in those neighborhoods, at no expense to the public, city, Case, or the tenants.

Where there seem to be more homeowners, there seem to be a higher percentages of open networks, indicating more of these residents are unsophisticated about securing their networks or more inclined to share. As Cleveland Heights has many progressive home-owning residents, it is likely they like to share.

Based on the high residential and commercial density and existence of a very dense free market WiFi cloud already in place in Cleveland Heights, it would be much easier and more cost effective and sustainable to leverage existing excess capacity rather than build a redundant network that competes with the existing commercial providers. Consider, of all the WiFi and broadband in place in Cleveland Heights, perhaps 5% is in use at any one time... probably less than 1%.

Rather than having Case and Cleveland Heights pay to replace what exists in the free market, community leaders should encourage businesses and residents there to add more broadband connections and wifi access points to their broadband connections (thus participating in the free market) and open up more of their wifi hot spots to neighbors (thus participating in building community capacity). For example, every business and most residences on and around Coventry and Cedar already have broadband so they should all be encouraged to have a wifi router and allow public access to some portion of their wireless broadband signal.

This architecture could be optimized with a contained portal strategy that allows properly configured wifi hotspot owners to segment their bandwidth into private and public channels and direct all public access to an authentication server, making access secure, and that could then direct all registered (but still free) users to a portal promoting Cleveland Heights community news, businesses and rental opportunities (and portal sponsors could pay for the overhead for that), all using free software and low cost hardware and without overlaying new infrastructure. An interesting example of how this approach is sweeping the globe is found at http://en.fon.com/

To take such a model to a higher level, the community could develop a grass-roots mesh environment, like being deployed in Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN) - see http://www.cuwireless.net/

For East Cleveland, a community neglected by carriers and the greater regional community, we are planning to use both strategies to build a wireless community broadband network where there is none today, and no corporate charity to build a much needed technology infrastructure to meet the needs of the underserved and impoverished residents there. I'll be conducting a similar analysis of the state of WiFi availability in East Cleveland over the next few days.

Tests of wifi access around Cleveland Heights

I just did a test of a dozen or so locations throughout the OneCleveland target zones and found more wifi in Cleveland Heights that I had expected, and was able to connect to open networks in most locations. Here is a list of where I tried, the number of networks I found, how many had encryption disabled, which I connected to, and what %age signal strength I found. I post a more thorough analysis, and add East Cleveland and some other sites near University Circle over time. Bottom line, Cleveland Heights already has a very complete wifi cloud, even if many of the residents there do not share their wealth... that seems especially true where I would expect to find Case students.

Cedar and Grandview - Firestone Parking Lot - 7 networks - 3 disabled - 57% signal strength best connection at Linksys
Across the street in front of Gelateria - 46% connection at Linksys

Cedar / Surrey / Fairmont by Jillians  - 17 networks - 7 disabled - 44%  signal strength best connection at Jillains Public

Cedar / Aware - Nighttown - 11 networks - 5 disabled - 64%  signal strength best connection

Euclid Heights and Derbyshire - 7 networks - 6 disabled - 46% signal strength best connection at Belkin54g

Euclid Heights and Edgehill - Marathon Gas Station - 10 networks - 5 Disabled - 48% signal strength best connection at Jake's Network

Euclid Heights / Mornington - 26 Networks - 7 Open - 80% signal strength best connection at Linksys

Euclid Heights / Coventry - Courtyard - 7 networks - 2 disabled - 33% signal strength best connection at Clevenet

Coventry - across from Winking Lizard - 7 Networks - 4 disabled - 42% signal strength best connection at Linksys - 33% signal strength best connection at Caribu

Coventry - in front of Panini - 6 networks - 1 disabled - Paninis secure - Store 42 secure - big fun secure - 51% signal strength best connection at PBandJ

Hampshire 1/2 block west of Coventry - 13 networks - 7 disabled - 37% signal strength best connection at linksys

Hampshire 1 block west of Coventry - 24 networks - 11 disabled - No connections

Sonfield 1/2 block to Coventry - 24 networks - 9 disabled - no connections

Coventry / Hampshire - in front of Mint Cafe - 7 networks - 3 disabled - 31% signal strength best connection at Home

Mayfield at Belmar, east of Coventry - 24 Networks - 6 disabled - 46% signal strength best connection at sw

Hampshire 1 block east of Coventry - 7 networks - 3 disabled - 53% signal strength best connection at Linksys

Mayfield opposite cemetery gate - 3 networks - 1 disabled - no connections

Mayfield i block west of Coventry - 15 netowks - 1 diabled - no connections

Coventry 1 block north of Mayfield - 17 networks - 4 disabled - 60% signal strength best connection at Linksys

Coventry / Avondale - near East Cleveland Border - 7 Networks - 1 disabled - no connections

Regarding the Case University Technology fee

Regarding the Case University Technology fee, there is some interesting debate about this on the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) WIKI. Grad students do not approve of the fee and want it defrayed, for many reasons including they were not asked for input and have no say in how the funds will be spent. More insight is found on all this in a WIKI posting about a meeting about the fee where high level Case Officials explained their cause to the Graduate Student Senate, which brings to question justification for Case spending this money for technology upgrades for Cleveland Heights. Note, in the 2007/2008 school year, the fee will raise about $1,829,625 from undergraduate students, being assessed $425 next school year (2006 undergrad enrollment of 4,305) and about $1,124,400 from graduate and professional students, being assessed $200 next school year (2006 graduate and professional enrollment of 5,622), representing increased technology fee collection of about $3,000,000, so Case finds the need to assess students for a considerable amount of new internal funding to support their department.

The actual budget for ITS for the ’07 Fiscal Year (FY07) is $15.7M. It is divided as such:

Faculty Support ($0.3M; 2%)

Internet Access ($1.1M; 7%)

Software Licenses ($1.5M; 9%)

Call Center and Desktop Support ($1.9M; 12%)

Hardware, TEC Maintenance ($2.2M; 14%)

Salaries ($8.7M; 55%)

Additionally, ITS needs $2.3M per year for the next 4 years to pay for current professional service obligations.

The IT fee will support the implementation and maintenance of a new Student Information System (SIS) to replace the current one. This is the system that maintains student records and allows you to register for classes online, amongst other things. The money will also be used to pay for a “debt service,” which, as best I can tell, means paying interest on a loan that the university has already taken out for improving the SIS.

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surprise locations for CH wifi

I woulda thunk they would want to offer free access in the northern section of CH where property values are lower and where kids might use the access for home study. North Coventry, and the Noble Nela section of town that borders on East Cleveland, rather than in the high dollar top of the hill areas, where the houses that give CH a reputation of being a wealthy suburb are located.

WiFi for economic development vs. universal access

There is real strangeness to this whole Cleveland Heights WiFi plan. I point out many issues here, raising questions about what anyone planning this is trying to accomplish. The vision seems to be one of using WiFi as a catalyst for economic development in areas of Cleveland Heights suffering negative impacts from development in University Circle, to benefit the most powerful leaders in Cleveland Heights, being commercial and rental property owners... one of whom is Vice-Mayor Kenneth Montlack, who also chairs the Finance Committee and is member of the Municipal Services and Planning and Development Committees, all of which certainly would have influenced developing this strategy. I expect the new spin on this will be using the WiFi cloud to enable local government to better serve residents, which is why most communities pursue such network resources. By even raising issues about the Cleveland Heights WiFi plan here, and on Brewed Fresh Daily, we all are attacking sacred cows - Case, OneCleveland, Cleveland Heights/regionalism and UCI - golden children of the region - so I don't expect much real openness and debate about any of this - what they want to do will happen as they want to do it... that is well demonstrated by how Case leadership pushed through a technology fee on all students, without engaging the Case community in the process and allowing them to participate in planning for how IT funds are used. Dig deeper and more issues will surface, but no one will dig deeper. Perhaps, by at least creating some debate about the value of investments in technology in the region, we can raise understanding of the needs not being addressed, like universal access where our citizens are most underserved and cut off from the new economy by the digital divide. But the solutions to that problem will not come from institutional leaders, who do not look to the underclass for revenues or future value, but from grass roots digital divide activism, of which there is very little around here. I'm working on that, but I don't find many community leaders outside the trenches who care. So, solutions will need to be home-grown, viral, and at times disruptive and controversial, rather than status quo. Expect to see such activity developing in the Spring, as redevelopment in East Cleveland starts to take off.

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