Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Why "Wired City" means something to me ...

Some Fourth of July nostalgic feelings of patriotism and loyalty have me craving to stick up for my beloved chosen hometown's decade-old "Wired City" efforts, so the following is a few reasons why I believe the fact that the City of Tacoma was ahead of the curve to wire its city was and is a good thing.

I'll start with, do any of you remember a time without cable? I do. I remember waiting and waiting and waiting for the year the cable company would make it to my neck of the woods with the infrastructure that would allow us to get channels other than what we could snag with our rabbit ears. And at the time, I did not live on a hill in a booming second city where you can get great reception just with rabbit ears (for those of you who have never gone without cable, you can get great reception in T-Town with just a good antennae). So I spent years and years as a child wishing and waiting while all my pals came to school saying "we got it!" until finally our day came. The cable company's vehicles in the driveway, digging up the dirt and stringing the cable to our house. As a child, it's a momentus thing to get the Disney channel.

And this is where I get to Tacoma. In 1997, Tacoma Power began to invest in the Click Network, a 700-mile telecommunications infrastructure, which gave the private sector incentive to invest as well, thus making Tacoma likely the most wired city of its size.

If Tacoma had waited for cable companies or phone companies to do the wiring for them, we might still be waiting. Instead of people blogging on their high-speed Internet about how Tacoma is so silly to have once bragged about being America's #1 Wired City and how now they're behind-the-times, how now the big deal is wireless. Instead of being in the position to snark, they'd be trying to do that on dialup most likely.

Do you remember dialup? Odds are it's been awhile. I believe Tacoma wired the city by about 1998. Even San Jose wasn't completely -- or near complete, not sure if they're done -- until just a couple years ago. I found an article from 2004 mocking the fact that the annoying sound of modems dialing in San Jose was a bit of a joke considering its local industry. According to that article, San Jose was only 35 percent wired for cable broadband in the fall of 2003, and 80 percent for DSL. In Tacoma, I believe, we all have access if we want it -- we've had it for years.

So, while citywide wi-fi is the current must-have lust-after dream of the moment, that's no reason to ignore the fact that in the late 1990s, when Tacoma was in the very early stages of the renaissance we're beginning to see the fruits of, back when few folks took Tacoma seriously and you could buy a home in the North End for under $100,000 -- the leaders of our fair city had a vision and followed through, giving us the infrastructure we have today. And perhaps their vision didn't turn out as gloriously as they envisioned, but it allowed me to give up my damned dial-up modem a few years ago. And for that, I am thankful.

Plus, I have a hunch that there will become a time (though I hope I'm wrong, of course) when having a physical wired system in place will be a saving grace when whatever wireless systems that go into place run into a major glitch of some sort. There's a reason many people still have land lines for their phone ...

But in the meanwhile, I celebrate that Tacoma was one of the first -- if not the first -- municipalities to jump into the world of technology and step up to wire its city without waiting for outsiders to do it for them.

And I'm also proud of our stellar Freedom Fair fireworks show.

I hope you enjoy both today.


James said...

"Plus, I have a hunch that there will become a time (though I hope I'm wrong, of course) when having a physical wired system in place will be a saving grace when whatever wireless systems that go into place run into a major glitch of some sort."

A lot of thinking, these days, seems to the other way. When Katrina hit, there were all kinds of disruptions and tradition services were out for days, weeks, months, entire telecommunications bunkers underwater.

But when cell phone companies were allowed back in with fuel, they turned over the generations and voila, five bars, baby.

Newer technologies like mesh networks (even part of the $100 One Laptop Per Child has mesh networking) says small repeaters (now often solar powered) can be scattered over an area instantaneously bringing communication infrastructure to an area where it's been damaged/affected/previosly unavailable.

That said, you're right, Click was a good idea. One of those push-forward with the best technology available. Sadly, there will always be the next great thing and so now people want wireless. (Even though if they really wanted it, it is available from multiple cell phone companies at horrible prices.)

Less than a mile from the Tacoma border (we write a check every other month to the City of Tacoma for our water), we're stuck with Crumcast's overpriced internet, phone and cable, thanks to a lack of competition. (Qwest is oversold on their DSL and satellite is probably out of the question due to the hill to the south.)

Andrew Fry said...

To me the Wired City project marked when Tacoma said, "Hey, we want some attention and respect, and if we aren't going to get it from you, then we'll just take care of it ourselves."

We were way low on TCI's installation schedule behind several other cities in the state. When we decided to wire ourselves they certainly paid attention. The Trib had a good article on it not too long ago.

I like the accompanying independence theme to your topic.