April 03, 2005

San Antonio Looks at City-Wide Wi-Fi

A group of San Antonio citizens is investigating turning the Alamo city into one large wi-fi hotspot.

The San Antonio Express-News reported yesterday:

San Antonio has a number of locations that offer Wi-Fi Internet connections for a fee, such as Starbucks, Borders, Barnes & Noble and McDonalds. A few locations such as the Weston Centre downtown also offer free Wi-Fi Internet access. But no one offers free Wi-Fi citywide.

[George] Cisneros, along with WiFi-SA.com and Salsa.net, want to change that. They want to place hundreds of small transmitters on top of buildings around San Antonio. Each would provide a "hot spot" allowing people to sign on to the Internet using computers equipped with Wi-Fi network cards.

Each transmitter provides coverage up to 300 feet from its site, but the transmitters could be networked together to form a wireless matrix so people would not lose their Internet signal as they traveled around the area.

The opposition to the project was provided by one of the telco-sponsored think tanks.

The networks pose a "number of serious problems that are being overlooked as cities rush into committing millions in taxpayer dollar to pay for network development and expansion," said the New Millennium Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank.

Director Allen Hepner refused to say whether telecom and cable companies funded the research and council. The group is an "independent" offshoot of Issue Dynamics, a consulting firm that has done work for SBC and Verizon.

I heard some of the San Antonio folks speak at a panel on the converging technologies industries in central Texas, so I know they've been thinking about community projects for some time. Nonetheless, I suspect the artificial deadlines imposed by HB 789 must have provided some impetus for action.

The bill awaits action by the Senate. It has been amended to include a clause that prohibits cities from charging for wireless broadband services unless they were already doing so as of Jan. 1, 2005. The bill also states that a city may not provide wireless Internet access to the public unless they provide that service by June 15, 2006.

Cisneros and other community leaders are working to get a Wi-Fi network in place in San Antonio before the deadline.

The San Antonio folks already were organized and in a position to meet these deadlines. They've got a good start on what could be a great project.

I'm concerned that if the deadlines currently in HB 789 are maintained, what's going to happen in the areas of the state that don't have that level of planning or organization in place. They are either going to have to rush off half-cocked to meet these artificial deadlines, or watch the possibilities of muni broadband past them by.

Hopefully the state Senate will realize that a freeze to the status quo benefits just one special interest, and hurts everybody else.

Read the entire article.

Posted by chip at April 3, 2005 01:57 PM