Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tips for cities doing wireless internet

The Reason Out of Control blog recently posted regarding a white paper on how cities should approach adding wi-fi to their municipality. While I have mixed feelings about government getting involved where private companies compete, my main reason for this post is not to opine, but to just pass the tips along, hoping they might find their way to the right people looking at this for Houston so we don't make some of the mistakes that are being made out there. So if you know those involved, please pass this along. Thanks.

Here are the lessons learned from the survey:

What you'll find out from those interviewed is:

  • put too much emphasis on free during the vendor search, you'll scare away what might be your best options for a quality network;
  • all this talk about free can raise expectations among citizens that can't be met;
  • "it's free, what do they have to complain about" is a perception that will lead to needless headaches, rude awakenings and a possible regime change at City Hall;
  • over emphasis on free can lead to inferior networks, inadequate maintenance and technology obsolescence;
  • a hands-off approach to vendor relationships leads to hands-on aggravation when stuff hits the fan;
  • don't pay attention to the financial well-being of your vendors, bad things can happen;
  • "free now, pay later" brings out the worst in some politicians.
Some of the solid government business lessons coming from this group of respondents include:

  • be realistic about the tradeoffs between free and quality of network service;
  • if you prevent vendors from making a profit and watch their ability to service you account go straight out the window;
  • be creative, think outside the box and you won't have to sacrifice capability and quality in the name of affordability and electability;
  • follow the money trail - if your $15 million network is free, where's the vendor getting the money from;
  • don't try to carry this financial burden alone
  • in WiFi public/private partnerships, the silent partner risks getting the messy part of the stick.
In the final analysis, cities need to

  • be clearer about what they're really doing with this network
  • recognize the danger of unrealistic expectations
  • know when to ask for a vendor's plan
  • know your vendor's marketing plan
  • see the vendor's technology roadmap
  • learn how to expand their options
The frenzied focus on trying to get municipal wireless free is detrimental to the advancement of this trend, and it is putting cities in danger of missing the many opportunities the technology offers. Trying to get the best deal possible for a city and its citizens should always be the main goal, though. You do this through better planning, thorough assessment of your technology and end user needs and a more aggressive exploration of your options.
The Reason take:
In short, there is no such thing as free WiFi, and while municipalities can expect a high level of cooperation from vendors and partners, they need to be acutely aware that their interests don’t always coincide. Those cities that fail to grasp this are the one’s most likely to either fail, or on the other hand, be grossly taken advantage of by an aggressive corporate partner. The worst case scenario is likely to occur in cities that attempts to mount municipal wireless purely for a political payoff, such is the case in San Francisco.


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