May 20, 2006
*St. Cloud, Florida, is probably unfairly receiving close scrutiny on
its free, city-wide network paid with municipal funds
The city's mayor explained some months ago that he sees part of the
point of this kind of network is keeping the $700+ per year spent on
average by broadband users from leaving the state. It's an interesting
article. But the network has been perhaps overcovered as the first
municipally run free network of this scale; others that offer free
service are substantially smaller or offer it only over a downtown or
limited area. The latest report suggests $464K above the $2.6m spent to
cover the city will be required to achieve close to 100-percent coverage.
Half the new expense was due to a mistake in timing. Developers will
start paying a $118.46 per new house fee Dec. 1, but 14 developments
weren't factored into the budgeting for the network. Covering these
neighborhoods will come out of the city's pocket, although it's possible
developers will voluntarily contribute to the effort, since they're
passing this along in some form to buyers. (Yes, it's a free network,
but that's how "free" can work.) Three neighborhoods were annexed since
budgeting happened, and about 20 percent of this new expense covers
service for them.
Another chunk, $185k, is for 35 APs--hey, we just found out these Tropos
nodes cost $5,000 each to buy and install!--to fill in poorly covered
areas, according to this newspaper story. The coverage level is now
estimated at 82 percent, and expected to top 90 percent soon, which is
the contracted amount. One council member thought the contracted
coverage was 100 percent.
Given that 100 percent is impossible for any wireless technology and
most wired technologies without excessive expense, it's a bad number to
shoot for. That last one percent could cost more than the most expensive
20 percent of the network. (That last 0.001 percent--a crank in an
underground concrete bunker--is the killer.) HP, which is building the
networks, suggests that anyone with a problem receiving a signal by the
end of June should the consider a PepLink bridge or a higher-gain antenna.
St. Cloud isn't unique in having a free service city-wide in a larger
town, just for the city paying for it. Some smaller towns offer free
Wi-Fi and I would like to guess that between 500 and 1,000 cities and
towns now have some public or private limited or unlimited free Wi-Fi in
at least one popular place.
But the only other cities that have free service on a metro scale are
those operated by MetroFi, which went free several months ago. (That's
free with ads; there's a fee-based, no-ads version, too.) MetroFi hasn't
received the same kind of scrutiny and critique as St. Cloud because
their first cities were unwired without municipal involvement. With the
Portland, Ore., contract in hand, MetroFi might expect the same kind of
close observation as the St. Cloud network. But given that MetroFi isn't
required to disclose finances and runs its own budget, there shouldn't
be any cost carping about their deployment in Portland.
*Read more at:* http://wifinetnews.com/archives/006590.html.
WISPA Wireless List: firstname.lastname@example.org