Monday, June 30, 2008

Web plan a no-brainer .. but will Akron businesses benefit?

City council clicked "yes" on what should be a no-brainer for Akron ... a wireless Internet network for downtown and some select areas reaching into the neighborhoods.


Through a partnership with the U of A, the Knight Foundation, and a non-profit network, the free web access should be up and running soon. The city is hitting the "return" key on $800K of the $2.2 million needed for the project. Council hopes that the network will reach 62 square miles of Akron.

While the primary audience here is Cindy and Sandy Cyberbottom, I'll be interested to see if any small businesses dump their wireless providers in favor of the free web access. That could be a big savings for companies facing hard times.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Could you imagine actually having the last name of "Cyberbottom"? Think that kid would get beat up at school?

Tony said...

These types of projects have been tried in a lot of other cities. Things that have happened constantly are:
1) Under planning of the hardware requirements needed to cover the dense radiowave-deflecting buildings.
2) Under planning of the bandwidth needs for "free, unrestricted wireless"
3) The liabilities of having free access. With the way companies like the RIAA are going after carriers (ISP's) for "perceived legal activity" (filesharing, etc.) Since the city is providing the access, they'd be inherently liable? IANAL, just doing some inference.

Sadly, this idea tends to get mired down in bureaucracy till it dies a quiet, lonely death. I hope I'm wrong, but it hasn't happened in cities like San Jose and Sacramento. Maybe Akron's found the magic formula, but...

Also, no small business will dump their connectivity for this. The security risks would be far too great and outweigh any monetary savings.

If you'd like to see the restrictions typically enforced by city provided free wireless, look no farther than the library right down the street from you. If you use their wireless you have to / cannot do;
1) You have to manually put in some of the network settings to connect to their network. Not that that's documented anywhere easily accessible. Oh wait, sorry! That's online!
2) You can't access instant messaging, that's blocked. Can't access youtube.com, that's blocked. Can't access myspace/facebook, yep blocked too. Can't access typical email functions (IMAP for you folks that know about that). So, besides web browsing, I can't actually use it for anything really useful. Might as well go to Caribou Coffee, be able to sit in a comfy chair and enjoy a good cup 'o joe while I actually am able to get some work/recreation done.

Anonymous said...

Eric,

I work for one of the companies that was invited to bid on this project. (Bids were due yesterday). None of the big name vendors want to bid on this because it the initial phase is for such a small area of the city. Therefore, this will probably be another year or two before Akron can round up enough $$ to get the companies interested.

Security Shoggoth said...

Eric,

I have to disagree with you - this is not a no-brainer. I've worked in Information Security for over 10 years and I truly believe any city-wide free wireless is a horrible idea. Why?

If you give free Internet across an entire city that means anyone can jump on. This poses a number of problems:

1. The wireless will most likely be unencrypted, or the encryption key widely known. That means your traffic (the sites you visit, the emails you type, etc) will be able to be viewed by anyone with moderate computer knowledge if they are in proximity to you (lets say 50 yards). Identity theft, credit card theft and other cyber crimes will start to increase.

2. Free internet == free, and potentially anonymous, avenues to crime. Child pornographers and computer criminals are going to have a field day with this.

3. I agree with the previous comment that businesses will not jump on this...at least the ones who understand how they are supposed to do business. According to the payment card industries (PCI) data security standards, companies who do credit card transactions are not allowed to be connected to unencrypted wireless. Remember the TJ Maxx fiasco last year? It partly was caused by unencrypted wireless in their stores.

Imagine a mom and pop shop in downtown Akron using city wireless. Even if they don't take CC's over the internet, their point of sale systems are probably connected to some type of network which would be hooked up to the free wireless.

I know these sound like far-fetched ideas, but these have all happened before. There have been many documented cases for each of the above situations. I have not seen one word on security within any of the information published on this. Has anyone else?

Eric Mansfield said...

Hey anonymous,
Contact me directly if you're interested in being part of my story for tonight's broadcast. 330-535-4105 or ericmansfield@wkyc.com.

I asked the Mayor about this this morning .. and he addressed it at his press conference saying that security will be addressed before the system goes active. I also spoke with city staffers who tell me the free wi-fi would include a second "tier" for businesses that would include faster service. Still, no one at city hall expects the free wi-fi to be enough for local law firms to dump their DSLs to save a buck.

We'll look into it for tonight's broadacst .. Eric

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