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« Three Hype Pioneers and Their Persistent Ideas | Main | Penn.'s Ironclad Municipal Broadband Law May Be Fuzzy »

December 17, 2005

Florida Town's Wi-Fi Plan Hits Poles

The local power utility is delaying the rollout of Dunedin, Florida, Wi-Fi network: The company that the city contracted to install a Wi-Fi network has been unable to secure an agreement so far with Progress Energy, which controls the poles. The city thought it owned the poles, but had given them to the energy firm three years ago. This isn't unusual: the pole rights are governed by a variety of regulations, and sometimes utilities accept maintenance responsibilities in exchange for easier access for their own purposes.

The energy company isn't per se opposed to having Citi WiFi, the contractor, put Wi-Fi transmitters on its poles. But they don't have a streamlined process for it and they have to conform to the rules set by FCC and state rules. These rules usually require certain kinds of non-discriminatory access mediated by space on the poles and other factors.

Update: City WiFi's Frank McCarthy wrote to correct a few details. First, as the article I link to notes, City WiFi currently has approval for 8 of 10 poles they requested. Second, there is Wi-Fi service running now with transmitters on city-owned buildings and other facilities; that started up in June.

Third, Progress Energy initially stated that City WiFi would never get access to any power distribution poles; that's changed. PE is apparently now saying that City WiFi still can't have access to light poles, but McCarthy expects that position to change with negotiation, too. City official are committed to making this happen, and their political pressure is apparently helping.

City WiFi's experience should be both a cautionary tale of dealing with utilities that have their own agenda and regulations, and a point of optimism that politicians can provide a push to cut through delays and recalcitrance.


In June 2004, Citi WiFi declared it required 100 to 120 transmitters atop utility poles. By December 2004, Citi WiFi has installed 8 to 10 transmitters.

At ten transmitters every six months, we may not expect this project completed in this decade.

[Editor's note: I'm posting this comment, but will note that it disregards the issue here, which is apparently with the utility companies, not with the service provider. Please read the original article for more details linked above. --gf]

Good points. However, I worked in the electric utility distribution group of a major utility for over 15 years and work in WiFi and Fixed Wireless networks and kindly disagree with one comment in the last paragraph that "utilities have their own agenda". I disagree because the majority investor-owned and public utilites have to abide by Public Utility Commission laws, regulations, and procecess, not their agenda; and processes are in place to allow access to poles. Furthermore, the PUC process is open for public comment. Many of these regulations are there for a reason - it's called safety. Most utilities don't have a problem with allowing access to poles. But it is very important torecognize there are processes in place. In the old telecom days there was the the "joint pole agreement process". The same can be said for commercial wireless carriers.

In most cases, there are "non-metered" or "un metered" tariffs in place that allow access to poles. Typically, the party interested in gaining access to the poles should work through the "Service Planning Department" of each utility. Better yet, some utilities have special "telecom departments" that provide access to poles and towers.

The other issue that of access to "power" to power-up the WiFi units. Each unit takes about 1-4 watts and probabaly 24 volts of power to drive the wattage. Therefore, the WiFi party needs to be prepared to work with the utility to get power to their units. This takes planning and time. (In sunny states there is talk of using small solar panels to provide power).

We should work with the utilities and understand the constraints involved before pointing fingers.

Regarding delays, yes, I have to say that most projects will experience delays in getting through the planning process. It's not as easy as just "throwing up a transmitter on the pole". A transmitter needs power, which requires planning. Then the device probably needs to be mapped on a utility map or some other map for tracking purposes. Then you need to make sure you have a service plan in place in case something goes wrong. Who do you call? The utility lineman or the WiFi party? This has to be worked out in a well thought "communications plan". And what long term agreements are in place? and how will manage those agreements?

Maybe we need to work with FERC or each PUC and recommend a special standardized process.

By the problems noted in Florida it appears that both parties miunderstood the goals of the effort - to provide broadband access and thus economic vitality to Florida.

As my buddy from HP said when designing new products, "The devil is in the detail and it takes time to find the devil and root him out; including the human ego, in order to find agreeement". Amen to that.

The June 2004 comment by Citi WiFi that "declared it required 100 to 120 transmitters atop utility poles. By December 2004, Citi WiFi has installed 8 to 10 transmitters. At ten transmitters every six months, we may not expect this project completed in this decade." demonstrates the challenge in deploying a one flavor only WiFI 802.11 platform. Because it takes a lot of 802.11 WiFi transmitters as stated by the CiTi WiFi spokeman himself. In other postings, I provided an observation that a multi-flavor approach is more appropriate; including wirless hybrid BPL as the CPE. Example is to select the appropriate OFDM high speed wireless backhaul + WiFI + WiMAX + the best CPE. CPE is important because it takes about 2-4 hours to "install" and power up a WiFi transmitter with the approproate CPE. With wireless hybrid BPL bridge (approved by ARRL) you can hit many homes/premises at one time off one transformer (read: pole). The challenge as in fiber is the "last mile" or should we say, the "last 50 feet".