December 14, 2005
West U Wi-Fi

Via Houstonist, the city-within-the-city of West University Place is following in Houston's footsteps by doing a study to see if a municipal Wi-Fi network would be a good idea for them.

Council members asked [City Manager Michael] Ross to negotiate the terms of the feasibility study with Red Moon Broadband, a Plano-based provider of mobile data networks that has installed Wi-Fi in a number of cities.

As part of the feasibility study, West U. would conduct a survey of residents to gauge their interest in switching their Internet service to a new network.

Red Moon representative Brian Thompson briefed council on the services the city could upgrade by switching to a wireless network.

If the city went ahead with the idea, it would then be able to select applications to add to the network, most notably involving utilities and emergency services.

But the network also would provide Internet access for West U. residents. To support the cost of installing and using the network, the city will have to know exactly how many of its residents would be willing to switch over to the new network.


One network application involves an application that allows utility users in the city to view their meters online. West U. Finance Director Walter Thomas said the city now pays about $42,000 a year for monthly meter readings. That cost would be eliminated if city employees and residents can check their meter readings through their computers.

"We'd always wanted to be able to have people read meters on demand," Thomas said. "There's no question it would create a lot of satisfaction."

Said Thompson, "It gives residents the ability to look at their own usage and actually control it. You can look at your meter and see what time of day you have the most usage, and try to curb it. It gives a lot of control to people."

Yoo hoo, Comcast, SBC, AOLTimeWarner of Borg! Why should any municipality care about your "unfair competition" whining when they can get this kind of benefit from installing their own citywide wireless network? Shouldn't they be free to deliver their services in as efficient and cost-effective manner as they can?

Thompson said he estimated the cost of installing a new network in West U. would be between $275,000-$300,000. Additionally, he estimated a cost of about $300-$400 per home.

But costs to individual users who want to switch to the network for their Internet use would be lower than what most pay now, he said.

"If Comcast and Time Warner are in the $39-$49 a month range, we're looking at the $15-$20 a month range," he said.

You can see why the big telcos are fighting this tooth and nail, of course. I can't help but think that there's a parallel here to the upheaval in the music industry. Used to be that the cost of delivering the goods was prohibitively high, but new technology has made it possible for many more smaller players to step in and undercut the big boys. Will the telcos recognize and adapt to this new market reality, or will they use legal force (in this case, legislation passed by the telcos' pet Congressman) to deny it? I believe the answer to that question is "Duh!"

There's always a dark side, of course:

Another application would allow police and fire personnel to obtain information quicker. Surveillance cameras hooked up to the network can monitor traffic, capture violations and record license plates.

As if I needed another reason to avoid driving on Buffalo SpeedtrapSpeedway.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 14, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

There are any number of services that can be delivered more cheaply by a not-for-profit government than a for profit corporation. The capitalism-is-always-better-socialism-is-evil propaganda convinces most people otherwise. The corporate lobby is also pretty loud. Remember all the money we were going to save by going free market with our electricity?

The one place where the free market is seldom beat, though, is innovation. If the City of West U ran the internet, we wouldn't even know what Wi-Fi is!

Posted by: RedScare on December 14, 2005 6:21 PM