Month: March 2008

Sebastopol voids Wi-Fi contract

Sebastopol Wi-Fi Map(existing Wi-Fi, click to zoom)

Our low power mesh Wi-Fi project has been slowly growing in coverage, and we are now serving between 250 and 300 users per day with free broadband access. Service is available in parts of Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Airport Express buses to SFO, plus scattered locations around the bay area.

But in Sebastopol, concerned citizens have been lobbying the city council to revoke our contract, and this week, the council reversed themselves, voiding the contract that we signed in November. Here’s an article on the topic from Sebastopol resident Dale Dougherty. See also news at BroadBandReports.

The concern the folks who are opposed have is that Wi-Fi will harm them. Despite many independent university and government health studies of even higher power equipment (cellular base station towers, etc) which show no harmful effect. For more on this topic, see Wikipedia. There is also a great overview at the World Health Organization’s Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity fact sheet.

The studies show that self-identified electrosensitive individuals DO exhibit real symptoms, including headache, skin rashes and anxiety. But, double blind studies show that the symptoms are unrelated to exposure to the radio signals. In other words, electrosensitive individuals placed in a shielded room and not exposed to radio signals do exhibit symptoms. They exhibit more symptoms if they believe the transmitter is turned on, and their manifestation of symptoms is not apparently related to the on/off status of the radio equipment.

The conclusion of study after study is that the symptoms are psychosomatic, and are likely a result of fear and stress. In the case of Wi-Fi and other radio signals, this suggests that what we have to fear from Wi-Fi is simply fear of Wi-Fi.

If you’ve got concerns at this point, please let me put things into perspective. Wi-Fi signals are typically 0.1 watt. Compare this to the mobile phone that you keep in your pocket, which is typically three to ten times this power level. When it’s at it’s highest power level, you hold it next to your head to conduct a conversation. Ever notice that your skin gets warm after a long call? That’s the only side effect of RF energy – warming. (Correction: While RF does cause minor heating, more than one individual has pointed out that most of the heat that you’d feel from the phone is due to the battery discharging, not from the tiny amount of RF. Sorry! -DJ) That is how microwave ovens work, at a much higher power level of 500-700 watts.

Our mesh network uses repeaters which are very low power, the same as a typical laptop or Linksys or Apple Airport access point. The transmitters are generally located 35 feet up on street light poles.

Finally, Wi-Fi is already widely deployed in Sebastopol today by residents and businesses there. The linked image below is a screencap from, a Wi-Fi mapping service. It shows all Wi-Fi access points detected by volunteers who have submitted them – not’s network (we only have one access point in Sebastopol currently), just everything else (over 250 existing access points).

To give a rather extreme example to illustrate the point, our Wi-Fi plans called for a Wi-Fi repeater on the street light at the corner of 12 and Main St. Today, there are already roughly 25 private access points within a one block radius of that spot.

If there was a public network, would less people spend their own money to buy and set up private access points, resulting in less Wi-Fi transmitters? If you fear Wi-Fi, a single public network might be “better” than hundreds of independent networks!

Wi-Fi is not a money maker for at this point, but I do believe it is a worthwhile project. Without continued development and experimentation in wireless technologies, many people will be left with just two broadband choices – AT&T, or Comcast. I don’t believe that duopoly will serve consumers well. Mesh wireless is an exciting alternative that can enable low cost Internet access for everyone.

FlexLink Product Launch

Our new FlexLink business Internet access products were launched this week. I’ll blog a bit of a sales pitch here, because I am real excited about the new technology behind the products.

These are the first products built on our new next generation network. Currently available in Santa Rosa, the FlexLink products will be expanding through much of Sonoma County and parts of the Bay Area over the remainder of the year.

For business customers, FlexLink offers some amazing new products and price points. Today, many businesses use reliable symmetrical T1 lines to serve their Internet access needs, with a cost that’s typically $300 to $500 per month. Our new FlexLink T1 product has pricing from just $249/mo. That’s a tidy little savings, but what’s even more exciting is that our FlexLink Dual-T1 is just $299/mo! That’s double the bandwidth for less than the cost of a typical single T1. Today’s business has more bandwidth needs, and single T1 just isn’t enough. Dual-T1 offers a full 3.0Mbps in both directions, which is a nice size for small work groups.

But the reality is that many businesses need even more bandwidth. With home DSL and cable exceeding the inbound (but not outbound) speed of T1 and Dual-T1 configurations, it’s probably time to consider faster access.

The entry level T1 and Dual-T1 products are interesting and cost effective, but our 5Mbps, 7.5Mbps and 10Mbps Ethernet links are even more exciting. With pricing from $499/mo, $599 and $699/mo, it makes more sense than ever to simply connect the business LAN to our LAN with FlexLink Ethernet! Growing bandwidth needs make 10mbps symmetric today what T1 1.5Mbps service was for businesses five or six years ago. Today’s larger Internet applications and the need for snappy Internet performance requires fast connections.

We haven’t yet set firm pricing for higher speeds, but there’s really no reason to stop at 10Mbps on FlexLink. It’s possible to deliver speeds of 30 to 40Mbps on our FlexLink Ethernet platform – so there’s room to grow. Then, our FlexLink Fiber Ethernet products step in, with speeds of 50, 100, and onward.

In asymmetric products, FlexLink ADSL2+ provides more inbound bandwidth for businesses that don’t send as much data to the Internet. With pricing from $129 to $169, and speeds from 8Mbps/1Mbps to 15Mbps/1Mbps, FlexLink ADSL2+ is a great upgrade from old ADSL1 technology for businesses.

More product info and sales contacts can be found here:

Things to do on a lazy Sunday: Stop Junk Mail!

Junk postal mail has a big impact on the environment, particularly catalogs. They’re also a nuisance and a distraction. Reducing recurring junk postal mail is easy, and the time invested pays big dividends. There are quick and easy ways to reduce your mail flow. Here are resources to get you started:

Step one: Remove your name from specific catalog lists at no charge by using Or, phone the toll free number printed in each catalog and request removal. Once you’ve registered with CatalogChoice, it’s easy to add catalogs as they arrive. (edit: Per this article, it seems that the Direct Marketing Association has instructed it’s members to ignore CatalogChoice. That stinks.)


Step two: The Direct Marketing Association is the largest provider of direct mail lists. The DMA’s mail preference service lets you opt out. Visit to register. The only catch: you must provide a credit card number to validate that you’re real. The DMA is as reputable an organization as bulk mailers can be, and it should be fine to give them this data. You can also register by mail for a $1 fee. The DMA will also remove you from some email SPAM lists via their email preference registration service.


Step three: Opt out of credit card offers. Visit to register. This site is run by the four major credit reporting entities, and allows you to get rid of those annoying “you’ve been approved for a new card” offers. You will need to provide personal data, including your SSN to opt out. Again, these four are the keepers of SSN credit info, so it’s as safe as possible. If you prefer, you can also do this by phone by calling 1-888-567-8688.

Do Not Call

Step four: Get your number off telemarketing lists. Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) popular National Do Not Call Registry allows you to stop telemarketers. Certain fund raising calls are still allowed, for example non-profits and political groups. All telemarketers are required to stop calling 31 days after you register your numbers. Visit to register. You can learn more about the registry in the FAQ here.


Step five: Call Publishers Clearinghouse and tell them that you do NOT want to be a winner! 1-800-645-9242. I suppose this choice could cost you millions, but the odds are that it won’t.


Step six: Call ValPak Coupons and ask them to take you off their list. Unless you like those annoying little blue envelopes. 1-800-237-6266.


Step seven: Advo/Valassis provides a web form that you can use to stop the Advo mailer. This is the big bundle of color newsprint materials that really clutters up your mailbox, along with the white postcard with the blue text which tells the post office where to deliver it.

Penny Saver

Step eight: Call or write to Harte Hanks if you’re getting their “Penny Saver” circular. They can be reached at 1-800-422-4116. Unfortunately, they don’t accept requests via the web, so you can either call them or visit their site to obtain their postal address and send them a letter.

Bank Card

Step nine: When you do business with companies, tell them not to sell your information! In particular, make note when your bank sends you information about their privacy and opt-out policy. You may need to fill out a form to ask them not to sell your financial information! (To answer the obvious question, no, of course never shares customer information with anyone!)

It takes three or four months for the flow of junk to slow to a trickle. I hope this info helps you reduce the clutter in your real world inbox.

Greening the Business and the Datacenter

BEA Logo

For some time, has been working to decrease our environmental impact and our utility costs. Our datacenter here houses a large number of servers and a lot of networking equipment in order to serve the needs of our customers. Reducing our impact and energy use is very important.

In addition to all of the standard practices such as recycling cardboard, paper, beverage containers and batteries, using recycled paper, etc, we’re working on some more aggressive changes. The largest of these is a change from our Liebert datacenter AC systems over to a new chiller plant from Bell Products of Napa. This project, a $600,000 investment, will result in large energy savings. Because of it’s efficiency, and the fact that we’re retiring the far less efficient Liebert equipment, this project has been approved by PG&E for a rebate of about $110,000. That’s great news for the environment!

We also met with city water department staff this week to audit our indoor and outdoor water usage, and we’re looking forward to their audit results and suggestions for cutting usage. The office drinking water is being switched from bottled to filtered chillers, and we’ll be changing some plumbing fixtures for lower usage. We’ve recently added two installation vans to our vehicle fleet, and fuel efficiency was obviously a goal for many reasons. These audits and practice changes are part of a business auditing and modification process that we are participating in called the Sonoma Green Business Program.

I attended the Sonoma County Business Environmental Alliance’s awards breakfast this last Friday, where they honored a number of businesses for environmental practices. It was great to see what other companies have been doing, and to get ideas about additional changes that we can make.