Mayor Bill White says $3.5m of EarthLink's $5m default payment for failing to build Wi-Fi network goes to bubbles of service: 10 low-income parts of Houston will gain Wi-Fi service to bring Internet access where it's otherwise unavailable. They'll start with what he calls bubbles--actually, that's a nicer term than "hotzones," which sounds like an unpleasant bodily sensation--and hope to link those together. Gulton in southwest Houston comes first.
Tropos is donating gear for this first bubble. They lost out fairly big-time when EarthLink bumped the Houston contract, which was estimated at $50m to fulfill. Tropos would have seen thousands of their nodes deployed in Houston. This is a good way for them to generate good will and keep their name in front of future providers.
Houston Chronicle tech journalist Dwight Silverman wonders if this could help reignite citywide Wi-Fi, and notes that Houston issued an RFI (request for information) that looks for a new operator to build service out. My take is that Houston is far too rangy to ask for anything like near-complete coverage (a requirement in the contract EarthLink signed), and these new efforts and the new RFI might reflect a better sense of financial and technical reality.
As EarthLink's CEO Rolla Huff said in an interview with me last summer about contracts such as Houston's, "We were providing coverage to cattle. It didn't make good business sense."
This effort dovetails with an RFI issued by a coalition in Broward County, Flor., to built out 1,000 sq mi of service. It's not naive, unlike a lot of earlier proposals (viz., Miami-Dade's failed effort). The OneBroward effort links the county, colleges and universities, the school district, two health-care providers, and the county sheriff. They're now actively soliciting private-sector partners. This is a coalition, not a network by executive fiat that fails to materialize. (The blog I link to is written by Lev Gonick, who was a big force beyond Cleveland's OneCommunity effort that radiated out from his employer, Case University.)