Monday, July 31, 2006

Boston Wi-Fi: New idea for city wi-fi

I can't decide if I'm really ticked off and disappointed in Boston or if I believe the mayor when he claims he is helping to lead a new direction for city wireless connectivity. Hizzoner, Tom Menino, has been roundly criticized because Boston, which claims to be a hi-tech city, has not yet offered the free city-wide wi-fi that other cities like Philadelphia already have. This article from the Boston Globe of July 31, 2006, discusses the current plan and the report that underlies the plan.

Briefly, the city plans to create a non-profit organization to oversee the construction of a city-wide wi-fi infrastructure that it will lease to a competing group of internet service providers. They expect that greater ownership of the infrastructure will keep more control in municipal hands. The taskforce concluded that broadband prices are due to lack of competition. They hope that this structure will foster more competition among the ISPs and will thus drop access prices to less than half the current broadband prices we see in the U.S., about $35 -$42/month. The taskforce report also anticipates that many niche service providers will spring up in the marketplace created by this non-profit holding of the wi-fi infrastructure. First, however, they have to raise funds.

You can see a brief and more objective analysis of the Boston experiment discussed here, at the website. Here is a short snippet of their synopsis:

Main points in the report:

(1) The city will grant the nonprofit access to light-poles, traffic lights, and city buildings, but will not spend any money to deploy the network. The nonprofit must raise funds (estimated between $16 million to $20 million).

(2) The network should be designed to bring the wireless signal up to the periphery of buildings. Users will be responsible for bringing the signal into their homes and businesses for example, by purchasing a wireless bridge. Some ISPs may choose to offer this device for free and assist those who need help.

(3) The city should be able to use the network for municipal purposes and to purchase access on a wholesale basis from the nonprofit.

See why I can't decide if we ought to shower the Mayor with praise or with contempt? Boston, the Hub of the Universe...

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