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
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
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 IndyLink.org
brand. Launched in 1996, MAIN is one of the nation's oldest nonprofit
Internet service providers.
For more information, visit MAIN at: http://www.main.nc.us
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Why should Asheville become one of the nation's first "Wi-Fi
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.
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
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
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 http://www.main.nc.us. END