March 10, 2006
Here comes the wireless network

Here's an update and overview on Houston's project to install a citywide WiFi network.

The updated technology would cost Houstonians half of what they pay today for Internet access, Richard Lewis, the city's director of information technology, told members of a City Council committee Thursday.

"We're trying to drive down the cost of wireless broadband for Houstonians," Lewis said. That means people who can't afford Internet access now may be able to once the network is in place, he said.

In considering the project, Houston is joining a nationwide race to go wireless. More than 70 cities are planning large networks, including Corpus Christi, Philadelphia and Chicago. Others, such as Spokane, Wash., and Oklahoma City, offer so-called hotspots, small "wired" areas where residents can access the Internet.

Houston's network, which could be installed starting as early as next year, is intended to foster economic development, help the city operate more effectively and give residents and business owners access to new, faster technology.

It's still in the preliminary stages: Companies will likely start bidding on the project in the next few months. And while the final contract needs City Council's approval to proceed, Mayor Bill White has been one of it's strongest supporters.

The wireless fidelity, or WiFi, network would enable police and other public safety employees to log on from the road, retailers and schools to access high-speed Internet without paying for their own infrastructure and Web-surfers at home to upgrade. It would also ensure the city has a way to communicate with others during a disaster.

The service would be free to city government, as well as Houstonians who bring their own laptops to select hotspots, such as large parks.

In homes and businesses, the connection would come with a price, but one that's likely to be more affordable than it is now. The monthly fee could be about $15 compared with the $30-50 residents pay now, Lewis said.

Houstonist noted a story from a few days ago in which the city's new high-tech parking meters could be the first users of the new network.

I think you all know by now that I love this idea and can't wait to see it come to its fruition. Dwight nailed it in his comments when he said that this is "the 21st centry equivalent to paving streets". In a few years we'll look back on this and wonder why anyone objected.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 10, 2006 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack