How do I convince a city to give away WiFi?
August 25, 2006 2:52 PM   Subscribe

How do I convince a city to give away WiFi?

I work in Escondido, CA; a city that says it's 110,000 strong.
For my own selfish reasons I want to convince the city to deploy free WiFi for everyone.

How do I do this?
Who should I write letters to?
Which ones?

What are some compelling reasons to present to the city to convince them to do this?
posted by thefinned1 to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Well, A) it'll make the city a much more attractive location for conventions, B) it'll improve quality of life for its no-doubt forward-looking and hip citizenry, C) it will generate positive publicity, D) it will lower the barrier to Internet access for the poor.

These guys might have some good resources for you: muniwireless.
posted by adamrice at 3:32 PM on August 25, 2006

1) Put together a budget showing them how little it would cost (probably only a few tens of thousands of dollars to start with, then only a few thousand a month ongoing).

2) The city council members and the mayor.

3) All of them.

4a) People might be more apt to linger downtown, which would benefit local merchants and perhaps give a boost to the economy. But then again, they might not -- the logic for the other side of the coin is, if they won't pay for wifi, they probably won't buy much of anything else either. However I think you could argue successfully against that by pointing out that people who own laptops and other wireless gadgets are high-disposable-income individuals. It is only mildly compelling, however.

4b) Also, doing nice things for voters is a good way to get re-elected, but this too is only mildly compelling, as there are probably other things they could do that would get more votes.
posted by kindall at 3:34 PM on August 25, 2006

Escondido is about the same size, population-wise, as Pittsburgh, which launched WiFi in the downtown area last month, in a joint project between the city and a privately operated development group. Chances are that you'll get much further by working toward this kind of partnership scheme, especially if the NGO is willing to work out all of the logistics and will rely upon the city government only for the access to property for antennae, for the issues with clearances, utilities and so on.

Are there any organizations that are currently working to foster community development, particularly in the sector of the city where the launch would occur? If so, they may be a starting point for any campaign.
posted by Dreama at 4:49 PM on August 25, 2006

I think you'll have to come up with reasons for why it won't put your local internet providers out of business.

I was thinking about this the other day (I'm in Toronto) and thought that there's no way in hell the large internet companies here would let the gov't do it.
posted by dobbs at 4:59 PM on August 25, 2006

Dreama, Pittsburgh's population is 325000 (2003), unless you know of a specific statistic that quotes the exact population of downtown only.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 5:14 PM on August 25, 2006

kindallhow little it will cost (probably only a few tens of thousands of dollars to start with, then only a few thousand a month ongoing)

Are you kidding? Escondido is 36.5 square miles. For a mediocre wireless network to cover that space, not worrying about penetrating walls, you need access points around every 300 square feet. That's over 600 access points.

Even if you just bought a bunch of Linksys access points, you'd still blow that $30,000 budget just on hardware, without thinking about planning, labor, administration, right-of-way and Internet access.

The problem is, you can't even use those Linksys boxes. You need reliable, weather-hardened access points that can also elegantly handle mesh networking. These are typically units from someone like Tropos, and they cost several thousand dollars a pop. When you consider labor and Internet access, covering Escondido would be a few million dollars.

thefinned1: the question is, would the benefit to the city merchants and politicians of Escondido be greater than a few million dollars to start?

Agreed with Dreama that a partnership with an ISP or charitable organization is the way to go.
posted by eschatfische at 5:59 PM on August 25, 2006

Well, obviously nobody is talking about wifi'ing the whole city, that's clearly not practical. When people talk about that they mean downtown.
posted by kindall at 7:54 PM on August 25, 2006

kindall: the Wireless Philadelphia and San Francisco initiatives are seeking to cover the entire city, not just downtown. Many recent wi-fi initiatives are truly city-wide, and thefinned1 said city-wide.

More information on the plans and potential pitfalls of city-wide wireless here.
posted by eschatfische at 8:24 PM on August 25, 2006

They won't cover a whole city with WiFi; far too much hardware to manage and too many separate Internet lines to be pulled. Not to say some cities won't try, but then, governments do a lot of stupid things. A different technology, such as WiMax or even cellular, would be much, much better.

And no, thefinned1 did not say city-wide. He said "for everyone." That's different. One access point counts as "for everyone" if it doesn't require a password to log in. (I did carefully read the question before answering.) Obviously there's no point to blanketing, say, a residential neighborhood where people have their own broadband connections that are naturally far superior to any possible free municipal service.
posted by kindall at 9:56 PM on August 25, 2006

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