Mountain Area Information Network

Making Asheville a "Wi-Fi City" (FAQs)

A new breakthrough technology from Meraki Networks in Mountain View, CA., has positioned MAIN to make Asheville one of the nation's first "Wi-Fi Cities."

On Jan. 3, 2008, Meraki and the City of San Francisco announced a plan to provide Wi-Fi coverage throughout that city, after several failed attempts to finance and build a municipal wireless network. Meraki is financing the $5 million demonstration project, with additional support from Google. No city funds will be used.

MAIN has been using Meraki mesh technology since February, 2007. We currently offer Meraki Wi-Fi service in areas of Montford, West Asheville, Chestnut-Liberty, and stretches of Biltmore Avenue.

When completed, this project will make Asheville one of the nation's first "Wi Fi Cities" with a secure, managed network. MAIN's unique use of Meraki mesh technology can be replicated in other WNC and U.S. communities.

MAIN's Meraki network plan is unique because it avoids potential legal challenges from cable and telephone companies. "Mesh" technologies, including Meraki's, rely on citizens to share their DSL and cable Internet connections. This "neighbor-to-neighbor" sharing creates efficiencies and redundancies that enhance network access and performance, especially in underserved neighborhoods. However, such sharing is usually prohibited by cable and DSL service agreements.

Meraki is avoiding this pitfall in San Francisco by pledging to provide the Internet links - with Google's support - for an indeterminate period. MAIN avoids this legal problem because we use our own Internet infrastructure (900 Mhz antennas) linked to the Internet via a service agreement with the WNC-based, nonprofit ERC Broadband fiber network.

In short, MAIN's nonprofit network plan is a viable and replicable business model for most U.S. communities which do not enjoy corporate benefactors like Meraki and Google.

As one of Meraki's early-adapters, MAIN is poised to move into the national spotlight as word of our operational prototype spreads. With the repeated failures of municipal wireless networks - from Philadelphia to Houston to San Francisco - U.S. communities are seeking new approaches to bridging the broadband Digital Divide in low-wealth and underserved neighborhoods. MAIN has already begun seeking funders and investors to complete the build-out of its working model. The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation recently awarded MAIN an $80,000 grant to this end.

We estimate the total cost of building a city-wide network at $750,000. Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 subscribers will be needed for sustainability, whereby recurring revenues will support ongoing operational costs. MAIN currently has almost 400 wireless subscribers. Additional revenues come from MAIN's other ISP services, such as nationwide webhosting via our brand. Launched in 1996, MAIN is one of the nation's oldest nonprofit Internet service providers.

For more information, visit MAIN at:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. How does MAIN's plan to make Asheville a "Wi-Fi City" differ from Buncombe County's free Wi-Fi service?

    MAIN's Meraki Wi-Fi access is secure and managed, so it provides the reliability and privacy-protection essential for e-commerce and other applications requiring confidentiality and quality-of-service (QOS) standards. As a full-service ISP, MAIN also provides technical support with a local phone call. Free Wi-Fi access is minimally managed and not secure, with no tech support.

  2. How much does MAIN's Wi-Fi access cost?

    Our Wi-Fi service offers 20 minutes of free access each day, or it can be purchased ad hoc from Meraki for $7 an hour, or $24 a month. This ad hoc service is not secure and no technical support is provided.

    For security and technical support, you can become a MAIN subscriber with an annual contract -- billed monthly -- with rates starting at $35 a month for residential and $45 a month for commercial service.

  3. Where is MAIN's Wi-Fi service available?

    Our service is currently available in parts of nine Asheville neighborhoods. While we are seeking capital expansion funding for our "Wi-Fi City" project, we're encouraging neighbors to share the $500 installation cost to establish a Meraki "mesh" node. Each node can serve 6-8 subscribers within a 1,500-foot radius. You can inquire about a node for your neighborhood here.

  4. How much will it cost to make Asheville a "Wi-Fi City"?

    Meraki's estimate for San Francisco is $5 million. We estimate $1 million for Asheville.

  5. Where will the money come from?

    We are approaching funders and investors as well as Meraki and Google, since the success of our nonprofit business model will boost Meraki's prospects nationwide. We were recently awarded $80,000 by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation for this effort.

  6. How will MAIN make its Wi-Fi network sustainable?

    We estimate that the network will become sustainable from recurring revenues with 1,500 to 2,000 subscribers. We already have almost 400 subscribers, and we have a basic "backbone" network already in place. We also have a proven record of sustainability, as we've been operating as a nonprofit ISP since 1996.

  7. Why should Asheville become one of the nation's first "Wi-Fi Cities"?

    The reasons are social justice and economic growth. Many Asheville households cannot afford high-speed Internet access. School officials have long been frustrated that our at-risk students do not have Internet access at home, nor do they use public libraries for access after school.

    Entrepreneurs need secure and managed broadband Internet access without having to sign 1-2 year contracts for service at a fixed address. This is especially true for our young people, who move frequently and cannot conduct secure business transactions safely over free Wi-Fi access.

    This secure service will also boost other business sectors, such as home health-care, whose practitioners need online access to confidential client information from remote locations.

    Making Asheville a "Wi-Fi City" meets our region's long-held goal of attracting good-paying and environmentally-friendly jobs. It will also put Asheville on the national map for high-tech firms seeking urban amenities and telecommuting flexibility for their employees.

  8. Why is MAIN the best entity to make this happen?

    MAIN's primary mission since 1996 has been to help bridge the "Digital Divide" in WNC. Because we are a nonprofit, we don't have to meet profit targets and investor expectations which force commercial ISPs to focus on more affluent neighborhoods and commercial districts, leaving low-wealth areas underserved. We are also eligible for foundation grants and tax-deductible donations.

    As one of the nation's oldest independent ISPs, we have a wealth of experience in serving areas and populations -- such as citizens with disabilities -- who cannot afford or cannot access commercial ISP services.

    MAIN also has existing relationships with key grassroots organizations -- such as the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods and Habitat for Humanity -- which will help speed the deployment of our Meraki mesh technology.

    Finally, as a WNC-based nonprofit, MAIN is not at-risk for being sold or taken over by a non-local company which could siphon local revenues to serve more profitable regions of the country. Investments in MAIN remain in Asheville and WNC.

For more information about MAIN, visit END