Free muni WiFi forces local monopoly to improve

Competition from a free municipal WiFi network in Lawrence, KS (a one-ISP town) has forced the local monopoly into providing a competing free service:
Lawrence has been touted nationally as the "land that anti-trust forgot". It is one of the few cities in America where one company owns the cable provider, cable news channel, daily newspaper, online news journal, weekly independent and most popular website. What keeps this media machine running smoothly? Broadband Internet revenue. According to Ralph Gage, former Chief Operating Officer of The World Company, 53 percent of the World Company’s annual revenue was generated by broadband Internet access.

"What better place to start a municipal WiFi project," jokes Joshua Montgomery, founder of the Lawrence Freenet Project and CEO of the organization’s for-profit service provider, "I mean what could possibly go wrong?" The Lawrence Freenet municipal WiFi project was launched in April of 2005 by a small group of local geeks. "Mostly we just wanted to see what we could do with Wi-Fi," says Montgomery, "we started off with a $50 WiFi access point and a DSL connection. Now the organization has one of the largest mesh networks in the nation and serves over 1,100 members with broadband Internet access – all without a single dime of tax payer money."

Link (Thanks, Offlogic!)


  1. Of course, Lawrence is the home of the University of Kansas — and basically nothing else.
    So this is actually a case of “monopoly v. monopsony” — and a very poor data point one way or the other in the muni wi-fi debate.

  2. If Lawrence’s cable company has a monopoly on ISPs, then where did the Lawrence Freenet get its DSL connections? Choosing internet access from cable, DSL, or ubiquitous satellite broadband does not sound like a monopoly to me.

  3. Now From The Heart of The WiFi ISP in question:

    Well its lonely here today folks, and quiet, lil too quiet…

    Ah well better when its quiet it means there wiff is working.

    The Monopoly in question ain’t one made by Hasbro

    It ain’t one where its a Monopoly on being the only cable provider as Coldspell pointed out.

    Imagine this instead, One company holds all the cards: They write the Newspaper, Give the Local News, Own the Alternative print/web, Own the Local Cable. What happens? They are very powerful in having the only voice to share only their views. So any group that contends with them is simply muted by almost all the local media. The only major media outlet they do not control is Radio.

    Back to Mesh Radio Data

  4. Interesting, the World Company is internet famous for bringing us Django, the open source (BSD License) Python MVC/MTV framework. But I’m sure Corey is far more interested in painting them as an evil monopoly in this case.

  5. Damn my spelling and there/their usage today…piss poor.

    Also don’t mind saying this, Corey is painting the World Company as they exist: A beautiful shade of Evil.

  6. @HONIBEHR: Fair enough. I’m not familiar with World Corp outside of their ominous name and pretty cool Django framework, but it certainly sounds bad that they control that much media in any town.

    I do, however, wonder if Corey’s head would explode when faced with an evil monopoly that was also an active member of the open source software community. The cognitive dissonance must be staggering.

  7. Lawrence native, here…

    Two-part NPR story of the media “monopoly” from another point of view— convergence saves local media, instead of ominous local company controls resident’s hearts and minds.

    I won’t necessarily defend the quality of the reporting coming out of the Journal World and Sunflower Cable (there is the occasional article that makes me cringe), but it could be much, much worse for a city of Lawrence’s size, and the World company has always been very tech-forward (developing Django framework, early cable internet provider, offering 20Mbps internet service in Kansas)

    Lawrence isn’t really a city where independent voices have a hard time getting heard– this is the city who’s mayor proclaimed International DaDa Month, and is the home of a large university (and the associated student and faculty publications), as well as being with in 30 miles of news media from Kansas City and Topeka.

  8. Just to be clear (sounds a little bit like I’m cheer leading for the World Company in my last post). All competition and added voices are great, but Lawrence is exactly the kind of city where Freenet can be a success and have an impact, or businesses can band together to print their own local currency, or the community mercantile can chase the national chain health-food store out of town, or…

  9. Let’s not forget they also own a computer support division: Geeks on Wheels. So when you have a problem with your Internet connection, they blame your computer and charge you $70 an hour. It’s never the cable companies fault. If I had a $1 for every time they told me my Mac had a virus…

    Freenet will have a tough go. The World company has an unlimited budget to compete with and the minute, their competition is eliminated…their altruisim will be eliminated as well.

  10. Or you can have Geek Squad give you the same crappy tech support, or any of a dozen EECS students at KU that hang fliers around town…

    Again, not saying Sunflower is great (or good), but compared to Time Warner or Comcast, forget it.

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