The End of Free XMission Wireless

Since 2002, I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in building a free community wireless network. This initiative started with the Olympic games and has expanded to many other locations – gathering places, Salt Lake City Main Street, libraries, Liberty Park, Pioneer Park and an ambitious project in Ogden that will eventually cover most of the city. Unlike other many other municipal wireless projects, the installation and support of these systems has been done without tax dollars. The benefit to business, tourism, students and the public is clear and often spoken of to me.

This week, Representative Brad Daw wrote House Bill 139 which will effectively put an end to public XMission Free Wireless. Sourcing from a legislator who describes himself as being in favor of “limited government”, this bill introduces civil penalties if a minor is able to access pornography over public wireless Internet. With XMission wireless never earning one red cent in profit, the potential of a civil suit hanging over its operation immediately makes it not viable. The moment this bill is signed into law, I will shut down all XMission free wireless and cease expansion of this service.

Some may accuse me of packing up my “toys” and refusing to cooperate. When this plan surfaced last year, I had a long conversation with Representative Daw expressing my concerns of such legislation. In reading the text of this bill, I see those concerns were flatly ignored. XMission has provided free Internet filters longer than any other provider in the state, but I can never guarantee that a minor can not access pornography over an Internet connection. Nor do I believe government or business is the best parent of my children or anyone else’s.

While the corporatives at the Utah Legislature sharpen their knives to deal a death blow to the public infrastructure fiber-network UTOPIA to protect private interests, their cohorts effectively scribe business-burdensome legislation against XMission rolling wireless networks without public dollars. As the owner of the largest free public wireless Internet network in Utah, I see this bill as anti-XMission and anti-business to the core.

41 thoughts on “The End of Free XMission Wireless

  1. I hope you’re not just bluffing. I’m thinking of the Outdoor Retailers threatening to move their trade show out of Utah because of the governor’s policy on wilderness. They never made good on the threat. You will have to go all the way. I’ll miss XMission’s free service but I support your decision 100 percent.

  2. You can bet more than a shiny nickel that I’ll be writing my senator and representative to ask them to oppose this crazy “morality police” legislation. Why can’t legislators focus on real problems instead of spending so much of their time tilting at the windmills of problems that only exist in their minds?

  3. I’ve already emailed my representative and Mr. Daw. I can’t believe they are doing this. I just listened to some sys-admin training that said solve social problems socially. Solve technical problems technically. And Mr. Daw claims to know about technology.

  4. I really hope you do not do this.
    I heard about the legislation and have wrote Mr Daw (sad to say but he’s my rep).
    I informed him that this move has cost him my vote, and that if he wants to save face he needs to open a dialog with those people who will be effected by this legislation.
    I have cc’d my correspondence with Mr. Daw to the major Technical User groups, and his introduction of this bill will serve as a permanent black mark on his record, that I hope may be used by any opponent to show that he in fact stands for nothing he claims to stand for.

    If children are accessing pornography anywhere at anytime, this is due to a failure of the parents to raise them with a proper set of morals. No legislation can fix that, and it is not the job of the state to raise my children.

    If his real concern here is that “his” children may access pornography without his consent, then he needs to spend more time with his children educating them about the dangers of the internet. Even if this means he needs to step down from office, to do so.
    If his concern is children in general accessing pornography, he still needs to focus on his own children, and let the parents worry about theirs.

    You Mr Ashdown are providing an invaluable service to the residents of SLC. For a few months I was living there and lost my job. If I hadn’t been able to access the internet, especially the free services downtown, I may not have been able to find meaningful employment.

    There are lots of people who use the downtown wifi network every day to help find directions, study for tests etc, locate a recipie (or a hospital) and so forth.
    Instead of shutting down the system, if it passes, please lets establish a legal fund and challenge the thing in court, it may be a long drawn out battle, but the bill is unjust and unconstitutional.

    I as an XMission customer would gladly contribute to a legal fund, each month on each bill, to defend free Wifi and business owners rights to provide service to whomever they choose, whenever they choose. I’m sure there are a lot of like minded individuals out there as well.

    Steve Morrey (XMission Customer)

  5. It’ll hurt, but I support your decision if it has to come to that. In the meantime, I’ll see what I can do to put in words where they may be most effective.

  6. I support your decision the obvious assault on free public wireless is there.

    Do you know of any public demonstration against this bill?

    That government is best which governs least.
    Thomas Paine

  7. Pete, you should put a link to this page on all the Xmission wireless page logins with a big notice that the service could shut down and if they want the service to continue to contact their representative and ask them to fight the bill. We should have a public demonstration as well.

    Your email has been sent to the University of Utah IT managers and some are asking for signatures against it and having a showing at the legislature when the bill gets out of the committee.

    This bill is like making clothing manufactures liable because people might strip in public in the presence of minors.

  8. CC – Representative Daws

    Representative Daw:

    While I understand and share your concern over minors being exposed to pornography, I am certain that House Bill 139 is the wrong way to go about addressing the issue. The Internet is simply a conduit for data and provides no mechanism for sorting or filtering content. House Bill 139 seeks civil penalties on the providers of that conduit if it is used for nefarious purpose by minors actively seeking access to pornography (and indeed, that’s what we’re talking about here, not passive exposure). Regardless of how large the problem may loom, punishing the businesses who provide a public service via donated access will always be an irrational – though I’m sure temporarily satisfying – response. The responsibility for how that conduit is used can only rationally be placed in the hands of the individuals who publish the data. What you are proposing is akin to penalizing the providers of electricity for any murder committed with power tools, suing the water utility for accidental drownings, or indeed, seeking restitution from local government because they provide access ramps to the federal highway system that provides safe passage for all sorts of illegal activity.

    The real solution is to enforce existing federal legislation that puts the onus of responsibility on purveyors of pornography themselves. Note that this will not keep pornography out of the hands of minors any more than the legal drinking age has kept alcohol away from high-school kids (there will always be an underground economy, after all), but it will make it unprofitable for legitimate business to continue scoffing their responsibility. It will also not create mistargeted and onerous anti-commercial hurdles. I realize that this solution is well out of your hands as a state representative, but it is the right enemy. It also has the advantage of not placing you in direct opposition to the conservative, pro-business ideals upon which you campaigned and were elected upon. I would also point out that your bill will almost certainly derail the Internet access provided by the Salt Lake Library, thereby informationally disenfranchising a segment of the population who cannot otherwise afford to participate in our data age. When the public is finally made painfully aware that your bill has failed to curtail the flow of pornography, but has completely eliminated a valuable and cherished public service, I fear that House Bill 139 will come to be known by the more easily remembered ‘Daw’s Folly’. I urge you to reconsider this bill for your sake and the sake of your constituency.

    M Burt

  9. I will write a few of those people I know here in Davis County too Pete. Thanks for the great stuff you do and have done!

  10. We can and should fight this unconstitutional legislation every step of the way! Phone calls, emails, and most importantly: face to face visits to legislators on Utah’s Capital Hill as well as testifying at the committee hearings!

    We need to develop and promote talking points and angles that appeal to the Republicans who currently (but hopefully not for long!) control our state legislature. Most likely this indeed would be pointing out that this is an unreasonable and unrealistic restriction on private business. As pointed out, it is impossible to block out 100% of all pornography from a determined minor, and for government to require a private business to attempt this impossible task is asking them to block access to a wide variety of absolutely non objectionable, non pornographic material including health, education, advocacy, news and even dictionary sites to both minors and adults. This makes H.R. 139 blatantly unconstitutional and a violation of free speech rights and if we don’t stop it on the hill (but we absolutely should not give up that fight which we can win!), we will stop it in the courts!

  11. @James Reynolds,

    That is a *great* idea James. Pete, put this notice on the Xmission wireless login page which will bring it home to people who use the service.

  12. Dear Rep. Daw,

    Please close all public libraries. They make information available (for free, no less!) that may be inappropriate for certain segments of the population. Free information is scary! What if our children had access to that?!?!

    Also, please close all printing presses. I have read some really raunchy stuff and I would never want my children to be exposed to such things…

    While we are at it, please present a bill banning everything but Barney and the Teletubbies (EXCLUDING that devious ‘triangle-headed’ monster) from free television. Currently, my television is able to display all sorts of free, unsavory activity broadcast on the major networks and I am unable to prevent my own children from viewing it. The obvious solution is to jam all radio waves and prevent these devious transmissions from entering our homes…

    -G. Orw.

  13. Good news! After e-mailing my senator and representative, I got a reply back from one of them. It appears that Sen. Neiderhauser (R-Sandy) has already recognized that the bill had serious flaws and unintended consequences and will likely be voting it down. Score!

  14. Sadly I have to lend my full support to your decision. It will have a huge impact on FREE PUBLIC ACCESS via wireless but it as I see it is a necessary move for X Mission. The Library systems in this state have already been impacted by a previous bill that eliminated any state support to libraries that did not filter ALL Internet access.
    I appreciate the sentiment of the state to protect its people but CENSORSHIP is NOT the answer. My personal belief is that the answer begins at home.
    On the bright side, the citizens will no longer have to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, the state will simply do it for them. You know, this might work out well as the Muslim religion seems to be full of “terrorists”, maybe the state could just ban all the books on the Muslim religion as well. And those pesky Catholics….well you get the idea.
    It does work however, as demonstrated by our good friends the Communist Chinese. They don’t have to worry about all that information we have access to, their government simply blocks access to anything they don’t want the people to know.

  15. I have enjoyed XMission at SLCC Main Street Campus many times. I support Pete in his fight against this unnecessary legislation. I have emailed Mr. Daw voicing my opposition.

  16. I support the legislation. It’s very reasonable to require providers of public internet to take reasonable precautions in preventing children from accessing harmful media.

  17. I listened to the KCPW discussion this morning (1-28-08) and there are several things that bug me about Mr. Daw’s reasoning.

    1. Minors can’t use free wireless because they could look at porn. But paid wireless (or *any* other network access) is ok? Will there eventually be another law targeting paid wireless or land based networks?

    2. He thinks the solution to minors viewing porn on the internet is to not let them use the internet? What about public schools? Maybe I’m mistaken, but I’m pretty sure they have internet there.

    3. If a PSP can access the internet wirelessly, isn’t it Sony’s responsibility to give the PSP filtering abilities? Or maybe the parent should just NOT let their child own a PSP because it could be used to view porn? Maybe the PSP can already filter webpages but the parent doesn’t know how to set it up? My cell phone can be set to use a proxy server…

    4. What is the current legislation governing a minors viewing porn on cable TV or in magazines at the residence of a friend or something? This issue is no different. Are cable TV networks liable for that? Are the home owners liable?

    5. In addition to businesses providing free wireless, I assume this will affect everyone who sets up an access point in their home and doesn’t password protect it.

    Mr. Daw’s attitude has convinced me there is no reasoning with him. He is trying to protect his children by taking the internet from them outside of his home? That is such a silly idea that it defies reason. The surface goal of the bill is to make it impossible for children to access porn. This is a very noble cause, but I grew up in the 80’s and way back then it was impossible to prevent children from getting porn. To pretend it is possible now is laughable.

    The problem with the bill (and anything usually claiming to “Protect the children”) is that it has nothing to do with minors. Oh, if it were actually possible to obtain the goal of isolating children from porn, maybe the goal could be the real purpose. But no, children will be able to access porn as easily as ever regardless of the bill.

    In fact, seriously, how many children use free wireless to access porn *RIGHT NOW*? This surface goal of this bill might be to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist.

    However, this bill WILL have a definite side effect. That is the real goal. Someone is going to have to change their network setup to add age validation (another impossibility but it doesn’t matter because that isn’t the real goal) or be vulnerable to a lawsuit.

    I’m not 100% sure, but I would guess the intended side effect of this bill is to attack those who provide free wireless. And guessing again, I would say the target is coffee shops and not Xmission. I’m just guessing, but I can imagine that coffee shops are on the hit list of people who believe you can legislate a perfect society into existence (some religions have a belief that have led many members to believe coffee is evil, in spite of the fact that the belief only states that members should not drink it for health reasons and says nothing of its goodness or evilness). Or maybe Xmission has a lot of enemies in the government (which wouldn’t surprise me considering Xmission’s support of UTOPIA and Pete’s run for senate). Or maybe Mr. Daw just wants to set himself up as a “Protector of Children”. Or maybe it is “all of the above”.

    Maybe Mr. Daw doesn’t even realize that this bill has a side effect. But I’m guessing Mr. Daw’s careless attitude towards the fact that minors can get past credit card age validators indicates he knows 1) that he can’t really stop minors from getting porn over a free public wireless network or 2) that it isn’t even a problem. If he doesn’t know with his head, he probably knows on some subconscious level that the bill’s real purpose is its side effects.

  18. How would you define harmful Mr Kingsford? What yardstick do you use? Is it the same yardstick I would use?
    What about the rights of those who have a different set of values than you yourself.
    How do you define reasonable. What constitutes, reasonable precautions?
    What if the goverment decides that all nudity is harmful to minors?
    That would preclude major works of art, as well as many medical related photographs.

    What about banned books, such as Catcher in the Rye, or To Kill A Mockingbird?

    Furthermore is it not your responsibility as a parent to be aware of the TV shows your children watch, the books they read, the games they play, and therefore also the websites they visit?

    Mr. Kingsford, you are effectively asking the government to babysit your children at taxpayer and business expense and impose your morals (or actually the morals of the majority), on the rest of us. If you ever happen to find yourself on the outside of the moral majority, (do you approve of everything you see on TV?) then your children will still be accessing content you don’t approve.

    This legislation is bad for us plain and simple. It will make Utah a laughing stock, and in the end will probably not hold up in court. But if it does pass, in the meantime it will have forced Utah back into the internet equivalent of the stone age.

    I would recommend, that instead of trying to “protect the children”, by censorship, that we let families make their own decisions about what is and is not appropriate for their families, and let them take steps to protect their own children. In the meantime I would like my duly elected representatives to protect me from their special interest legislation.


  19. Bryan,

    I think we all agree that we don’t want our children accessing harmful media. The real problem here is that there is no known way to identify minors in this case. If this bill became law, it would be impossible to do without shutting down wireless internet access altogether.

    Perhaps the bill could be reworked to be more reasonable, because as it stands, there’s no way anyone could legally provide wireless internet access without risking being sued or fined.


  20. If the desire is to allow civil punishment against the providers of any conduit by which a person under 18 can get porn, then I will be the first in line to sue the State of Utah.

    Generations of Utah children got their first look at porn in girlie magazines, which were brought on state highways.

  21. These so-called peoples Rep’s. in Utah who want to look like moral heros in front the high church leaders, and hope they will get praise from them on the side, to help them find a personal place in heaven, are out of order. Remember the the highest ideal of man is “We we teach them the correct principles and they govern themselfves.

  22. I have received the following reply from Representative Daw:
    I will be hosting a meeting here in the Capitol on Thursday, January
    31st at 3:00 P.M. We will be discussing House Bill 139 about public
    wireless access. I will be in attendance along with some members of the
    Attorney General’s staff and members of the Xmission ISP staff. Anyone
    is invited to attend, and please let us know if you will be able to.

    The meeting will be held in the East (Senate) Building, in the Beehive
    room which is just south of the cafeteria on the first floor. I hope to
    see you there.


    Just thought this may be good information for anyone who comes across this post and reads the comments.

  23. Bryan, the key word is “reasonable” in your argument. First, credit card age verification has been tossed out as being ineffective by proponents of Internet filtering. Second, there is a cost for implementation of this method. Being a “free open” service, credit card verification makes wireless cost more and lessens its usability. Last, the litigation costs I would have to face defending XMission because a determined individual could invoke bypassing the credit card verification makes this onerous and a risky business venture.

    So it’s ineffective for the task at hand, burdens my business with implementation and liability risk, expands the reach of government, and is a bad solution in search of a problem. What is reasonable about that?

  24. I think someone has already brought this up. But what about the hundreds of wireless APs owned by people who either for convenience or ignorance have not enabled any security and therefor anyone driving down the street can jump onto their internet access and do whateer they want. You can expect every homeowner will setup their wireless security. So would these homeowners get sued, become “sexual predators” for “allowing access” to “inappropriate material” through their home internet connections?

  25. Thanks, Will read. But it still leaves the point that if you take away the access that is there for general use, there are still ways of accessing this information when you take it away.

  26. I was listening to the show today and heard this. I was outraged at the Representative Brad Daw. I am 21 and never once have I actually thought about writing something that bugged me but this I guess bugged me enough. what made me upset is Brad isnt lookin at this in the eyes of people who actually use the wi fi. I am actually at the down town library writing this, (not set up to be that way either). I think that XMission is doing good things for the community and to filter his wireless network isnt not effective, neither is the credit card idea. I think that Brad should teach school children about the internet and how to use it effective. Where is parent reponsiblity whats going to happen when they are 18? Can anyone say addiction? I can, it is a serious problem, also what if Brad spent more time in thinking about working with Pete in using something like a driver license check, because not everyone has a credit card. I am trying not to have carry one I have it but its called no debt, crazy too I know. Here is an idea lets have all the 18 yr olds get credit cards and promote spending they dont have! Crazy just crazy for someone in power to be that ignorant!

  27. Mr. Ashdown, thank you for providing wireless hotspots. I use them and I appreciate your service. I’m sorry that the some in the legislature are hell-bent on kicking Utah back to the dark ages. I understand the sponsor’s desire to prevent minors from access harmful material, but this bill is not the answer. I suspect it isn’t hard for most kids to find some open network their neighbor has left open. Should the bill pass and you shut down the service, I would understand.

    The bill appears to have several legal problems, most importantly some First Amendment issues. Note that the total aggregate fine is $25,000. This substantial amount of money, but not unlimited liability either.

    Also, I wonder how other providers of wireless internet access, such as AT&T wireless, Verizon, Sprint, etc. feel about this bill. I suspect the bill is intended to apply to IEEE 802.11 based networks, but nothing in the bill specifies this. (Perhaps the “big boys” can just pay the $25,000 tax (fine) and not worry about the hassle of fighting it.)

    I plan to stop by the senate building Thursday afternoon to see what unravels. Best of luck.

  28. I realize this is off subject, but am wondering if you are planning to endorse any presidential candidate? Personally, I am voting for Obama.

  29. Pingback: No more Free Wifi in SLC?

  30. I have carefully reviewed the bill and there are some problems that may not be so apparent.

    First, in response to a comment that Dave made “the bill doesn’t apply to private or residential internet access.”

    This bill most certainly will apply to a great number of private or residential wireless networks. Let’s read this very carefully:

    “(3) This section does not apply to a person who maintains a wireless network within the person’s private residence to provide personal wireless Internet access.”

    If you are providing wireless access (intentionally or not) to anyone other than yourself, even from your home you can be held liable under this proposed law.

    Second, Matt Nelson asked “I wonder how other providers of wireless internet access, such as AT&T wireless, Verizon, Sprint, etc. feel about this bill.” I would say this is a perfectly reasonable question as it would most certainly apply to these and other carriers. There is no limitation on the type of wireless access, in other words it is not limited to WiFi.

    I agree that the unintended consequences are substantial, and this is putting it lightly. Not only will it affect XMission’s free wireless, any owner of an open wireless network, etc., but it may also have a dramatic impact on the many conventions and business meetings that are held in the state each year. Scare away even a few conventions and there is a potential tax revenue loss (not to mention impact on local businesses) that could reach well into the millions.

    Personally, and as an Information Security Consultant, I have many concerns about open internet access by any means, including wirelessly. The solution is not to create new laws that limit the people; the solution is for parents to take some responsibility, and ultimately the child to be responsible for his or her own actions.

  31. There is an article on Ars-technica about the bill.

    This whole anti-porn movement in Utah has got something seriously wrong with it. It and the anti-terrorism movement have something in common: the lunatic idea that we can control this stuff.

    “We can’t keep weapons out of prisons; we can’t possibly expect to keep them out of airports.”

    It is obvious that laws can’t keep drugs away from kids. So instead of making every possible drug ingredient illegal, the schools try to educate students of the ill affects of drugs and hope the students choose the best. Why don’t we take a similar tact with porn? I think the fundamental flaw in these guys’ thinking is that they don’t believe kids can say no to porn. If they don’t believe kids abstain from porn, these are clearly not the people who should be making laws concerning kids or porn.

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