March 10, 2007

The Many Dimensions of Chasing Public WiFi [9:46 am]

An interesting take on the tensions and consequences of public wireless network deployment: A wireless L.A., but with strings attached - pdf

MORE than a few obstacles stand in the way of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan, unveiled with some fanfare last month, to blanket all 498 square miles of Los Angeles with wireless Internet access by 2009.

[...] What would it mean as an urban phenomenon, for the way we experience the city and interact with one another? What would a wireless Los Angeles look like?

[...] [T]he plan’s most intriguing aspects have to do with the way we think about the various borders that define the city and its limits. Even as wireless access could make architectural boundaries less important — since networks will no longer have to be contained, as most are now, within the space of four walls — it promises to draw civic ones more indelibly.

For most of its history, thanks to its unusual, sprawling shape and the piecemeal way it expanded over time, thirsty for new sources of water, L.A. has been a city with soft edges. It’s often hard to tell when you’ve left Los Angeles and entered Gardena or San Fernando or Bell. The relationship between urban and suburban areas can also feel turned entirely inside out in Southern California, with the peripheries of L.A. proper often sleepier and less dense than many neighborhoods that lie just outside the city limits. As a result, the line between city and region has always been more faintly drawn here than in any other American metropolis.

A universal wireless plan would likely make that difference more pronounced, since access would end abruptly at the city limits. (Imagine if your cellphone stopped working at the Santa Monica or Pasadena border. You’d learn pretty quickly exactly where those borders lie.) This is especially true given that L.A. controls the utility poles on which the wireless-network equipment would have to be installed. Since many neighboring cities do not, they may trail us in the wireless race by several years, if not longer.

[...] [W]hat rings most hollow is the claim from the mayor and his allies that universal wireless is designed primarily to help the city’s electronic have-nots. If that’s the goal, why not take full advantage of the fact that L.A. owns its utility poles, turn this into a wholly public project and make access universal and free? The answer, of course, is that cities feel they can’t manage even a moderately ambitious initiative these days without the capital and marketing muscle the private sector can provide.

Tellingly, one of the city’s first experiments in wireless technology has come in Pershing Square downtown. Though that project, spearheaded by the Community Redevelopment Agency, offers free online service, it isn’t meant to deal with the digital divide as much as aid the city’s continuing — and largely unsuccessful — effort to burnish the square’s reputation. It is essentially an electronic version of the public-safety and trash-collection crews that patrol parts of downtown. Like the mayor’s broader wireless plan, it is more about image than access.

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OT: Only In An LA Newspaper [9:34 am]

McCain goes over to the dark side - pdf

‘THIS IS NOT Luke Skywalker here,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), discussing his friend and Senate colleague John McCain’s second run for the presidency. “This is a totally different campaign.”

[...] What makes McCain’s conversion all the more tragic is that it’s plainly not working. He has spent the last three years plotting to make himself the candidate of the GOP establishment that he once attacked. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “2008 is shaping up as the worst presidential year in three decades to be the candidate of the Republican establishment.”

His career since then has indeed resembled a certain famous Jedi. He began as a crusader for justice. Soon he realized that he needed to acquire more power in order to accomplish his noble goals. But over time, his pursuit of power became the goal itself, and by the end he lost his capacity to differentiate between right and wrong.

This is not Luke Skywalker here. This is Luke Skywalker’s father. But at least Darth Vader attained his position before the Death Star exploded.

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