the future of IPv6 in Harrisonburg

Brent Finnegan -- October 28th, 2008

Another Q&A with City Council candidates: The project to bring IPv6 to Harrisonburg failed. Is having IPv6 connectivity in the city something worth pursuing? If so, what should Council do about it?

Roger Baker: In my opinion the City should pursue IPv6 with the private sector thru the City Economic Development Department. There are others who have shown interest in development of IPv6 in the City.
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Dave Wiens: Of course it is worth pursuing but we must be careful here. My reading suggests to me that this is a concept that has not been very successful in other areas of the country. Dead spots, incomplete coverage and customer complaints about service have been issues. So what to do? First, the city needs to delay on this service until a company emerges that has a proven track record. We have tried to be ahead of the curve on this and this resulted in nothing but frustration and broken promises. When a company with a proven record does emerge, we need to negotiate an aggressive contract with the company that specifically outlines what the city is permitting, who can purchase the service, when the services will be available, and we need to have some idea of what the pricing schedule will be. If these details can be worked out, I would strongly support the service.

As an aside and as a resident of the Park View area of the city, I feel that the city should look at this issue regardless of whether or not wireless will ever be viable. Some areas of this city have little choice in internet access except for dial up from the ‘90’s or very expensive cable broadband. I would like to see the city encourage other providers, who are willing to provide city wide coverage, to look at Harrisonburg. As compared to many developed nations, this country overall is behind in its internet delivery system and needs to make upgrades in this area.
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Charlie Chenault: I am not sure the city is in the best position to accomplish this without the cooperation of JMU, EMU, SRI and other large scale potential users of this protocol in this area. We gave this one shot about three years ago and were unsuccessful because we simply could not find a reliable vendor. We continued to try, but could find no one to partner with us. We are in the process of working with the Governor’s Director of Technology and a Virginia Tech Pilot Program so we can piggyback any program that develops from their relationship. I still think we will need JMU’s cooperation to make this work financially because of the size of their network. I am amenable to providing economic incentives and exclusive franchising in this area if it would help.

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Richard Baugh: As far as I have been able to tell, this project failed because the desire to be a leader in this area outstripped the ability to get it done. This ties into my point in a previous response about talking to the Justin C’s of the community. This in turn ties into my larger campaign point about generally trying to do a better job of getting community input before decisions are made.

In short, this is definitely something worth pursuing. However, we need not to get the cart before the horse. Let’s look at it more carefully and get input from as many knowledgeable people as we can. There seems to be a tradition around here that once elected to Council, one has to act as if one knows everything. If that is what you want from your Council members, I may not be your best choice. I DON’T know everything and do not intend to be ashamed about talking to people who know more about important subjects than I do.
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We have not yet received responses to this question from Tracy Evans, Kai Degner, Rodney Eagle, J.M. Snell. We will add their responses as we receive them. A total of eight candidates (including two incumbents) are running for three available seats on City Council.

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12 Responses to “the future of IPv6 in Harrisonburg”

  1. Nicklaus Combs says:

    im really confused by dave wiens response, is he confusing wireless with ipv6?

  2. Josh says:

    Nicklaus: Wasn’t the original project wireless IPv6?

    http://www.hdtz.org/news.html#2

  3. Justin C says:

    Brent, you continue to say that horrible 4-letter word. “IPv6” is a curse word these days to HBurg geeks.

    Nicklaus you are right, Dave is a little confused. Given the way the technology was sold to the community though it’s not surprising.

    Josh, the project was wireless IPv6, but IPv6 itself is not wireless. That itself was the core of the problem. IPv6 is part specification, part technology. Globally it has been mostly a failure so far yet continues to loom because it will become necessary. The project in Harrisonburg failed because the company did not have all the answers in how to implement it.

    City wide wireless however is a well understood system. It has been implemented in much larger cities and smaller cities than Harrisonburg. The problem with city-wide wireless is the business model. No business has figured out how to make money off of it, so any city that implements it must be willing to cover some portion of costs.

    That is where Harrisonburg’s stance as a city has not matched what has been said publicly. Publicly everyone loves technology, supports it, wants a wireless network. Privately they’re not willing to pay for it. That’s why we call it Vaporware.

    Let me say now, I do not know anything about the city budget. I do not know what can be paid for and what can’t. I am bias because I know about the technology and I know what it could mean for this city and that excites me. I just get tired hearing all the things that will be done for us and then never happens.

    If it never happens so be it. Luckily we have some very intelligent companies in downtown who understand the benefits of offering free internet (Clementine’s, Dave’s, Earth and Tea, Old Dominion, more?). Now, once I convince Dave to open up some internet we’ll be doing well!

  4. charles chenault says:

    Justin, Nicklaus, and Josh – your comments are all on the money. As I said, I favor economic incentives and the prospect of exclusive franchising to encouraging someone reliable to partner with us. The same for a better cable provider. Believe me, we have looked. No company we have approached has been willing to invest in the infrastructure to accomplish this without a much bigger customer base.
    Thanks – Charlie

  5. Justin C says:

    Charlie – That exactly what I was pointing out. Using exclusive franchising has regularly failed in cities across the US. It sounds fine in theory, but companies have not been able to see profits quick enough to justify the cost.

    In my opinion the only way to successfully implement such a city-wide system is for the city to fund and run the system. This may not be feasible for a city such as Harrisonburg, I do not know about all the financial issues. What I do know is that the exclusive franchise plan will not produce a working system. I also know the technology and know that it is very possible, just difficult to make a profit on.

    I personally feel the expense is worth the rewards and the economic growth it would encourage would help pay for it. That said, I have no proof of this and know I’m biased. It just makes sense to me.

    I thank everyone for their responses. It helps voters like me to know at least what each candidates goals are, understanding plans sometimes have to change.

  6. Justin C says:

    Some further reading

    January 4, 2006 Anaheim enters an exclusive rights license to be “the first” city-wide wirless
    http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/news/atoz/article_929210.php

    July 30, 2008 it’s declared a failure
    http://www.ocregister.com/articles/earthlink-city-internet-2109848-service-smith

    Sept 5, 2008 Philly gives up on it’s exclusive rights contract, non-profit takes up the cause and provides hope
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-10033386-94.html

    Sept 14, 2006 Milwaukee abandons their exclusive rights contract
    http://wistechnology.com/articles/3321/

    Brent, I think you said this best a long time ago on this site when you referenced this Simpsons clip
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ql744tSfnXM

  7. Wes Deviers says:

    -Wireless as a Service
    So there are two models that people consistently confuse, and it’s important to point out the difference.

    Model A is treating wireless as a public utility where residents can use the service (required?) and the city turns a small profit on it. This requires the city, or the contractors, to deal directly with end users. It also requires the city to use crappy equipment. 802.11 was never designed to do the type of deployment that they were looking to do in Harrisonburg. The entire idea is laughable; the technology barely works across three flights in a building. If it starts to rain we’re screwed.

    You can do the coverage much easier if you use different standards. The problem is that it requires every end-user to purchase access equipment (like CDMA cards or 802.16 adapters). A few people will do that if you can compete in price with Verizon, or get significant speed gains.

    The downside is that for the massive, massive costs of deploying a canvas network city-wide, it’s darn near impossible to ever recoup it. Comcast already has reliable, high speed, expensive service. Verizon and Ntelos have semi-reliable, cheaper, slower service. The middle zone might have some clients (say, $40/m 5Mb service) but I doubt it would be enough to break even.

    Model B is where the city works as a blind transport. They use their power to secure rights to antennas around town, a few of which they already own, and put up completely proprietary equipment. They then lease transport to companies who want to use it. So if a local company wants to start an ISP, they lease transport from the city, buy a modem for their customers, and then route internet across the transport for that customer. The customer pays the ISP, the ISP pays a flat rate to the city for that customer’s data usage.

    HEC already does this; they operate a fairly extensive fiber network around town. They don’t provide internet, only light and a plug on both sides. It works pretty well, and they are nicely price competitive with other services.

    The very nature of the “IP6 Wireless Project” kept shifting between these two goals. One day, it was complete, ubiquitous wireless access for every point in the city. The next day it was common-carrier style transport only. Then, occasionally, it would morph into direct competition with Comcast (triple play voice/data/video service).

    Both of these suffer from one critical problem: nobody is going to want it. I already pay almost $70 a month for internet service from Comcast. Most of the small businesses & restaurants that believe WiFi will make their customers happier already have it. If you need always-on data, you can get data services from most of the major carriers. How much would anybody here be willing to pay for this “ubiquitous” internet access city-wide?

    If the city, or the city’s contractor, were providing full internet service via wireless, how fast and expensive would it be? Let me pull some numbers from…somewhere…

    First, you know that in certain zones it’s pointless to do coverage because they’re already covered by cheap DSL or expensive cable (unless the goal is 100% coverage for absolutely no reason). So, I’m making two assumptions. To provide “Good” service and keep people from jumping ship, you need a cheaper service for around $25. A 2Mb service would probably fit the bill here. Also, you need a fast service, 6Mb+, for less than comcast. So you have to aim for about $50. The entire price range is $25-$50.

    If you want to provide “good” service, you need to allocate about 1Mb for every 30-40 subscribers. For crappy services, you can push on up to 70-100 per Mb. And..just don’t accept college students as customers.. : )

    Everybody else can play with the numbers as you see fit. On my calculator, taking some reasonable estimates of sign-up rates, it doesn’t look good.

    – IP6 versus Wireless
    This is a complete fiasco. Most media coverage seemed to want to equate “IPv6” to a silver bullet, killing every single IT werewolf in Harrisonburg. “IPv6 allows for streaming video”, “IPv6 is many times faster than the ‘old internet'”, “IPv6 reduces cancer rates among adult men.” The problem with IP6 is that is no, -no-, significant advantage to using it versus IP4. If there were, IP6 would already be widely deployed. If you’re deploying a new network, should you consider IP6? Absolutely! It has some cool new features that might, one day, be used (although it’s unlikely). Plus, you might as well.

    But its certainly not a sales pitch as the city was lead to believe; no technology company worth their salt is going to say “Ohh..Harrisonburg has IP6, lets locate our new fab plant there.” The relies on two falsities: first, no large tech company is going to use the Harrisonburg wireless project for their network connectivity; second, very few people in the private sector are dealing with IPv6 yet as it is. The first thing that would happen, should a company decide to use the wireless project, was a request to transport IP4 address space over the IP6 network.

    Vote Wes for Tech Czar!

  8. Justin C says:

    Excellent points Wes. I enjoyed your breakdown of the scenarios and couldn’t agree more. The only way something like this would fly is if the city were willing to take a hit for at least a few years. Other municipal wireless projects have failed mostly b/c subscribers were not interested. For a company to switch providers they need a solid reason, and just going wireless is not enough for the cost in change over.

    I do not agree about the potential for IPv6 however. Currently there are no killer apps and just a lot of headaches, so it’s easy to make jokes about IPv6. Existing technologies can continue to extend how long we can use IPv4. The problem is, IPv6 will eventually become necessary.

    IPv6 and other dual-stack software, firmware, and hardware products will be in demand worldwide. Maybe not tomorrow or even next year, but that mostly depends on the quality of the tech being produced. The plan Harrisonburg came up with and marketed had strong points even if the explanation of it to the public was a shaky.

    The potential to develop and test software that takes advantage of things like true multicasting ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multicast_address ) was a big part of why I decided to locate my company in Harrisonburg. Luckily it’s rather simple to set up a local IPv6 network to test applications on, just not as impressive as a city-wide network.

    It was a good plan but doomed from day one, I just wish I had realized it. It could be brought back and maybe accomplished, but I would much rather focus our attention on normal old wireless access.

  9. Wes Deviers says:

    You’re correct; multicast and mobile IPs are the two things in IP6 that potentially are worth the switch. I’m still not convinced that multicasting under IP6 is significantly better than under IP4; the main difference is that an IP6 router stack is much more likely to implement it. With a full Cisco or Linux routing stack, multicast has been licked for years. I like the extensions, but if multicast were really the killer app for IP6, it could have been implemented on IP4 (admittedly, with more headaches) a decade ago.

    I’m pretty interested in the concept of mobile IP, though. I’m deathly afraid of what that concept would do to global routing tables. So far all of the explanations I’ve read on the implementation side of things require Deep Magic, and that also concerns me. I guess there are still competing versions of it; one involves tunneling and one involves routing.

    I still, personally, don’t see any need for any type of ubiquitous wireless access, IP6 or otherwise, in Harrisonburg. Maybe when Wimax/802.16 becomes a usable standard and the equipment is cheap like WiFi, I’ll jump on the bandwagon. But trying to do it with 802.11 is..well..dumb. : )

    Best!

    Wes

    Vote Wes for Tech Czar!

  10. charlie chenault says:

    . Justin – thanks for your comments which I intend to keep in mind as this hopefully comes up again, and I am around. The main point I was trying to make was that nobody will look at us without franchise exclusivity. You are correct that the only other choice is for the city to build the system which I would be willing to do if it were up to me, and we could make it work financially; however, we need a larger customer base than we now have – hence JMU. They were approached, but were unwilling to join us at the time. This is a very precise area of expertise and few government officials are up with it – me probably included although I work at it. Ah yes – the importance of seeking other expertise and listening.
    Thanks all – Charlie

  11. finnegan says:

    Thanks to Justin and Wes for helping to shed light on this.

  12. finnegan says:

    Updated with Richard Baugh’s response. He emailed me at 11:18 this morning, but I wasn’t able to update it until now

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