April 17, 2006
Houston WiFi update

Here's an update on where we stand in the deployment of a citywide WiFi network. The City of Houston is already gathering bids for a downtown network, with eventual expansion elsewhere.

As envisioned now, it would be free for city government and in several public places around the city, including parks and libraries. But most residents and businesses would pay, albeit less than they do now, to access the high-speed network.

In the race for wireless, the question for an increasing number of cities is not whether to build a network, but how to pay for it.

The dollars can come from a variety of sources - users, businesses, advertisements, taxpayers, or a combination of those - depending on how the municipality chooses to fund the project.


Houston looks likely to charge customers for access, with a possible discount for low-income residents. That would mirror the project under way in Philadelphia, the largest city in the country to give the go-ahead to municipal WiFi.


The city is requesting proposals for a network solely in downtown, estimated to cost about $300,000, Lewis said. The provider would then have the option of extending the network to other areas of the city.

Although a single contractor would provide the network, it would connect to various Internet service providers. The city would regulate the wholesale rate ISPs paid to the network, so the providers could charge consumers about $15 per month compared with the $30 to $50 now.

That kind of cost competition has led some providers to oppose certain forms of municipal networks nationwide. That's just one of the factors the city must consider as officials move forward. Construction of the network could begin early next year, if a suitable vendor is identified and the City Council approves. It will take about two years, [Richard Lewis, the city's director of information technology,] said.

Earlier this month, representatives from 65 companies interested in submitting a proposal by the May 16 deadline attended a city information session. Lewis said he expects as many as 10 of those companies to bid.

Fifteen bucks a month is pretty reasonable - it's certainly cheaper than what I'm paying now to Time Warner. I'd be very likely to consider a switch down the line. I'll be more than a little surprised if the Time Warners and SBCs of the world don't respond with a sweetening of their current offerings as an inducement to keep people like me in place.

That's assuming, of course, that they don't succeed in their mission to ban cities from making this service available in the first place. Neil Peirce examines the current status of those efforts, and note that what we're seeing now looks a lot like the effort to ban rural areas from forming their own electric utilities almost a century ago. I think he's on the mark there, and I hope we've learned the lesson from that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 17, 2006 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

I for one would love to be able to kill my $60/month bill to Verison for their wireless access. I do have to admit that I do really like the service, being a consultant it has saved my butt several times. One time I fixed a customers dns server while at a very long stop light in front of a mall. I just whipped out my laptop logged on remotely and I was done. The homeless guy patrolling the median was amazed and did not even ask me for money. I also like that I can have meeting with clients and not be dependant on their internet or meeting anywhere in Houston and hop right on the net. It also works well in every city I’ve traveled to including Canton, Ohio.

Posted by: John Tourloukis on April 17, 2006 10:48 PM

SBC is already responding, it seems. They sent us a letter last week saying they were cutting our DSL bill by about a third.

Posted by: Pete on April 18, 2006 10:07 AM