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June 11, 2008

Metro Round-Up: News from All Over

Take a nice deep breath--we're going in! A plethora of municipal Wi-Fi stories hit in the last few days: Let's look at items from Philadelphia, Minneapolis, nearby St. Louis Park (Minn.), Texas, Foster City (Calif.) and Naperville (Ill.), Chehalis and Centralia (Wash.), Cambria County (Penn.), Santa Fe, San Francisco, and finish up with an Marketplace radio report. Whew!

Philadelphia may find operator for Wi-Fi network: The AP reports that the City of Brotherly Love's Wi-Fi network isn't yet down, or down for the count. While it's scheduled to be flipped off tomorrow (you can read whatever you like into the phrase "flipped off"), the city is talking to a party it won't disclose about the networks future. EarthLink sued Phila. in May to be able to remove its equipment and cap its liabilities. The city's wireless non-profit arm, Wireless Philadelphia, has made noises about what EarthLink's true liability could be; the non-profit has born some of the electrical cost, and might be seeking to have that repaid on top of penalties and other expenses.

Minneapolis suffers the heartbreak of leafage: Leaves are popping in Minneapolis, and Star-Tribune columnist Steve Alexander writes that residents are seeing some Wi-Fi reception problems on that city's Wi-Fi network. This is the only big-city network that can be currently described "successful," even though its long-term success has to be proven out. The firm responsible, USI Wireless, told Alexander they're working on adjusting about 5 percent of antennas to cope with the pesky greenery.

St. Louis Park sues ARINC over Wi-Fi network: The Minnesota town says the network never worked, and had earlier discussed a lawsuit. The city wants the value of the contract ($1.7m) plus a very modest amount in damages and fees ($50,000). The city plans to start removing gear if ARINC doesn't sometime in June. But they have to deal with 490 poles erected to hold the nodes and solar-charging gear--sunk into concrete. More recent testing showed that the network worked well in some areas, but the majority of the network did not, according to the Star Tribune.

Verizon builds out fiber in AT&T territory: Interesting sign of competition in otherwise monopoly-per-provider-type world. Verizon is using AT&T's hard-won statewide video franchising rules in Texas to build competitive fiber in Dallas suburbs. They're apparently not bringing telecom; they're acting like a cable TV firm with data. Verizon owns chunks of territory all over due to it encompassing GTE in a deal years ago. GTE serves suburbs west of Portland, Ore., and east of Seattle, for instance, while Qwest serves most of the rest of each state.

Foster City Wi-Fi dies on June 20: MetroFi is unlighting its cities, and Foster City opted not to spend the nearly $200,000 asking price MetroFi put on its equipment. MetroFi might still find a buyer, but June 20 is the network's current final day. Naperville, Ill., also expects a June 20 shutdown. They, too, were offered the network hardware for 200 grand.

Chehalis lights up: A small city in southern Washington votes to put in Wi-Fi hotzones. The cost is about $53,000 and annual fees $15,000. Funds will come from existing tax and grant sources. The city chose to install service to make sure they're not missing a checkbox on the amenities list for visitors and businesses rather than for a particular, measurable goal.

Nearby Centralia pulls its Wi-Fi: A pilot project in the larger city of Centralia, Wash., a bit north of Chehalis, is shut down when poles used to mount Wi-Fi radios are removed as electrical wires are buried. (The reporter here confuses broadband over powerlines (BPL) with broadband wireless.) The system might be restarted later.

Craig Settles writes up Pennsylvania's Cambria County wireless success: This is a network built for particular municipal purposes, part of Settles's long-time drumbeat about having applications first and then networks built for those networks second. He notes that Cambria built a 700 sq mi network that sounds nearly cost neutral through efficiency and cost conservation--it's cheaper to get much more service with this network than it was for a smaller array of services with incumbent-provided networks.

Santa Fe residents oppose Wi-Fi in the library on health grounds: You know what I have to say about how provable this has turned out to be in clinical studies. I am, however, as always, concerned about these people's health, even if I don't believe that Wi-Fi (or EMF) causes their problems. The group opposed to library-Fi is citing the ADA in this case, uniquely I believe. Six libraries suggested that EMF triggers seizures in epileptics, something I've never heard cited before; maybe CRTs (flickering), but EMF? Wired is substantially less kind than I am, pointing out that EMF other than Wi-Fi produces vastly higher signal strength. (They're sort of ignoring signal strength at a given point where an individual stands in relation to a transmitter, however.)

Meraki expands San Francisco network to housing projects: They're bearing all the costs, but Mayor Gavin Newsom shared the spotlight. That's called stealing the glory without paying the penalty; if the project doesn't work as expected, the mayor says the city wasn't involved.

Public radio business show Marketplace looks at the state of muni-Fi: A nice, brief report that looks at how wireless networks will serve cities in the future, not just Wi-Fi specifically, for municipal-only purposes.