Municipal Wi-Fi. Why not Dallas?
by doug bedell    Wed, Oct 19, 2005, 02:18 PM

wifi.gifLast year city leaders allowed free Wi-fi Internet access to be installed in a downtown city green space. By all accounts, people loved the opportunity to plug into the Internet while munching lunch outdoors. As a city trying to lure business to its core, wouldn't it make sense to some sort of  permanent arrangement like that, if only in its downtown parks?

Well, Dallas hasn't made a move. And the 21st century keeps on rolling without us. In Philadelphia, Earthlink and city fathers have come to an agreement that might serve as a model to the rest of the country. Philadelphia agreed to set up a basic Wi-Fi network using utility poles, making sure that the lowest income areas are fully covered. Earthlink is fronting the city $11 million to set it all up. In exchange for access to that network, the provider has agreed to make its $20-per-month wireless subscription available to lower income families at half price.

Yes, the city will have to bear some administrative costs needed to screen applicants and oversee the installation. But, no, that's not unreasonable given the obvious benefits to all concerned.

As icing on this deal, consider Philadelphia's options for service expansion. If the Earthlink trial works as planned, the city has already said it will open its poles to other service providers like T-Mobile, freeing those subscribers from their Starbucks tethers. The fledgling eBay/Skype partnership might also be interested in providing wireless Internet telephone.

And, suddenly, you can envision a leasing system that covers the municipal administrative costs and, perhaps, even turns a profit.

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