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Muni Wi-Fi not as easy as it looks

A number of cities are now fielding irate calls from citizens who feel the services don't work as advertised.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor on
It's hard work pulling together a Wi-Fi network for your city. There are RFPs, citizen groups, pressure from the telcos and cable companies. But the work doesn't end after the network has been installed. A number of cities are now fielding irate calls from citizens who feel the services don't work as advertised, News.com reports. For instance, there's Chaska, Minn.:
From the beginning the service worked well for about 75 percent of the residents, said Dave Pokorney, city manager for Chaska. But for the other 25 percent, the city's networks struggled to provide adequate signal strength. "We do see some variation in speed among customers," he said. "And that has been something we've struggled with from the beginning. At one time we were seeing people getting signals of 250Kbps, and someone six houses down was getting 1.2Mbps. That just wasn't acceptable."

The solution was to upgrade all the radios in the networks only two years after deploying, a full two years before the city was planning on that expense.

"We would have rather not upgraded when we did," he said. "But at the same time, we are a little ahead of our subscription targets. So our revenue stream is a slightly better than we had expected. We're still comfortable with the idea that the network will be self-supporting."

St. Cloud is another Minnesota city where residents have been frustrated by not being able to get signal indoors. Says Becca Vargo Daggett, director of the municipal telecom project for the Institute for Local and Self-Reliance: "Wi-Fi in an outdoor setting is a proven application of the technology. But adjustments need to be made to make sure the technology works indoors." The difficulties don't mean cities shouldn't move forward with Wi-Fi but they should realize exactly what they're getting into:

"I've heard a lot of city officials say they want to have a Wi-Fi network," Chaska, Minn.'s Pokorney says. "They don't know why they need it, but they want it. My advice to them is that the technology should fit the mission rather than the mission fitting the technology. There are places where Wi-Fi would be great, but there are also places where it's probably not the best answer."
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