Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mayor White on Houston WiFi

The great thing about waiting a day to post on an event is that I can leverage what everybody else has written rather than have to write it myself - and just add in a dash of my own insights where appropriate. With that in mind, Dwight Silverman and Charles Kuffner give a pretty well-rounded overview of CoH CIO Richard Lewis and Mayor White's Monday night conference call on wireless internet coverage for the city. And if you want every scrap of detail, both of them have links to many of the other bloggers who have posted on it.

I raised concerns about being locked into one vendor that gets a monopoly on the public infrastructure (mainly light poles). They will let multiple retail ISPs use their network, but at the end of the day, one company controls the wholesale price. God help us if it's AT&T/SBC or Time Warner Road Runner, who are allowed to bid for a reason I can't quite understand (they have a very strong incentive to not undercut their existing DSL/cable pricing). To be fair, a vendor needs to recover the captial cost of 18,000+ base stations, and they pretty much need a monopoly to do it. The contract is for 10 years, with options for two 5-year extensions, and the expectation of a "technology refresh" every 5 years - so we won't get locked in to any archaic technologies for too long. They talked about an emphasis on "flexible scalability". I'd prefer to see a shorter monopoly/exclusivity period, and then allow 2 or 3 competitors on the poles.

A few other points:
  • They have clauses that allow cooperation with other political entities, inc. Metro or smaller cities if they want to be on the network.
  • 5% of the land area of the city is reserved for free wifi, probably parks, libraries, and maybe tourist/convention areas.
  • The city now spends $600K/year on communications that will become free under the new network. That's a pretty nice savings.
  • Many more traffic signals will be able to get timed/coordinated with this network, which is a BIG win for mobility in the city.
Overall, I think it's a pretty good plan. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into it, and I think Mayor White is genuinely trying to do the right thing for the city long-term rather than just score short-term political points. The mayor issued a call for citizen support, which should be interpreted as "AT&T/SBC and Time Warner are doing everything in their power to kill this, so please tell your friends and put counter-pressure on your elected representatives," - i.e. politicians can only be bought if voters don't care. Tell 'em you care, and they might just do the right thing.

If you have more questions, the Mayor will have an open online chat at 6:30pm Wed 5/17. Details at www.HighTechTexan.com.


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