New Orleans taps EarthLink for citywide Wi-Fi: The company will unwire New Orleans, its fifth city, across a 15-square-mile area offer free service at 300 Kpbs and paid service at 1 Mbps. In an interview this morning, EarthLink's municipal networks division president Donald Berryman said that New Orleans's city council vote 7 to 0 to award EarthLink a non-exclusive wireless franchise agreement. Although no RFP was involved--given the unique circumstances--"If somebody else wanted to come in and go through this same process and build a wireless franchise agreement, they'd be able to negotiate with the city and negotiate it under the rules that exist for the city of New Orleans," Berryman said.
Tropos was originally in New Orleans to backhaul video surveillance. After Katrina, Intel (WiMax) and Tropos (Wi-Fi) stepped in with other partners to run Internet access. That access was threatened because it was too fast for Louisiana state law after the state of emergency ends. (You can read the law starting here; use Next Section to proceed through the Local Government Fair Competition Act. Cities can't run services over 144 Kpbs each way, but they can contract with private providers.)
The city was eager to get a replacement in before running up against state law. Berryman said the city's CIO Greg Meffert--who said he would go to jail if need be--contacted EarthLink after other companies backed out. In a Red Herring report in March, Meffert noted some larger firms had started "vacillating" in their interest.
The 300 Kbps free service will be ad-free, Berryman said, and will operate until the city is a bit more back on its feet. No date has been set for that free service to disappear, and Berryman expects that digital inclusion initiatives and other efforts will take its place at that point. The 1 Mbps service pricing hasn't yet been set, and Berryman said that FEMA workers and contractors in the city would be the most likely users.
Interestingly, while this deal involves Tropos MetroMesh access points and Motorola Canopy, as elsewhere, but the press release also mentions mesh from Motorola, which might be for the public safety band or for public safety use.
Update: A report over the weekend in the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes that the original 512 Kbps free service operated by the city will also continue to run, although that's partly dependent on legislation being passed to allow that speed to continue. Also, EarthLink agreed to pay the city a $25,000/year franchise fee for the initial 15 square miles, $500/sq mi/year as they expand, with a cap of $100,000/year, the Times-Picayune reports.