Does it take the worst sort of disaster to provide a city with a glimmer of modern technology? New Orleans will become the first city to operate municipally owned Wi-Fi today, with a system deployed in the French Quarter. Launched with donated equipment, the network will meet a number of crucial public safety needs, the Post reports:
Already, WiFi communications for government services are helping the city speed its recovery. The biggest benefit, (Deputy Mayor) Meffert said, has been enabling building inspectors to quickly process paperwork for reconstruction permits without having to travel back and forth to city offices.
Moreover, Meffert said the hurricane provided valuable lessons on the ability of traditional, wired telecommunications systems to withstand natural disasters.
"I know what failed," Meffert said. "Staying with the status quo would be the single most reckless thing I could do. . . . If I put it back the same way that it was, people should fire me before I finish."Chris Drake, operations manager for New Orleans, said the system also proves invaluable for law enforcement. Although first responders will still communicate over a radio-band network, background data checks and other police functions can be done on the WiFi network, relieving pressure on the radio system.
Before the hurricane, city government already had moved to a voice-over-Internet system to save money. And it had deployed a new-generation, wireless "mesh" network for anti-crime surveillance cameras in parts of the city.
Ironically, horribly, Louisiana has passed a law making it illegal for governments to offer more than 144Mbps service. New Orleans received an exemption to the law because of the emergency, but the city is intent on not going back.
City officials said they will battle to overturn the 144-kilobit speed limitation that will take effect when the state of emergency is over.
"It's the blessing of this tragedy," Meffert said. "It's harder to win the been-here-forever vendor argument. Either we do this, or we die."
If it's crucial for a city in ruins, are there any policymakers out there who think it might actually be good for normal strapped and overburdened cities?