May 16, 2006
WiFi conference call

I got to participate last night in a conference call with Mayor White and the city's Director of Information Technology Richard Lewis to talk about the upcoming WiFi rollout (see Dwight and Michael Garfield for a preview). The call was pitched to bloggers, who as you might expect are generally favorably disposed to the concept of ubiquitous Internet access. From a practical perspective, the call went very well - lots of good questions about different aspects of the plan, and I thought the answers from Lewis and the Mayor were thoughtful and thorough.

The basics of the Houston plan are described here. The Mayor stressed things like "public service, public access, public safety", as in those are the three things they want out of the WiFi project, in that order. (Public safety, i.e., HPD and HFD, will join in on this later, after some investment is made in their equipment and the new network has demonstrated it can handle the load.) The city gave a presentation to some 65 service providers in which they described their RFP, and they hope to get bids from as many of them as possible, including companies like SBC and Time-Warner. The RFP calls for open architecture, to allow for scalability and easy adoption of new technologies as they emerge, and for covering the entire 640 square miles of Houston as rapidly as possible - Lewis thought within two years was doable, though he said he wouldn't erally know until the providers responded. Some designated areas in Houston, such as parks and libraries, will have free access to the system. Some low-income areas of the city may also get free acess, though that hasn't been defined yet. Businesses will have the option of paying for improvements to the system to meet their specific needs. Other governmental agencies, such as Metro, will be able to participate in the project.

That's most of what i remember from the call. Basically, I thought the city's plan was well thought out, and I'll be very interested to hear the particulars of the winning bid. If you want to know more, you can join in on a live chat with Mayor White, to be done in front of City Hall on a WiFi-enabled laptop (natch). It'll happen at 6:30 PM EDT on Wednesday, May 17, and you can access the chat at

There was at least one Chron reporter in attendance (not counting Dwight, whose post above has his report from the call), but as of this writing I can't find their story. So, your coverage comes from Houston Democrats, IsoDes, Brains and Eggs, who was less impressed than I, Lair, Houstonist, and Business Unusual, which also provides an MP3 of the call (that I can't link to from the hotel PC I'm using).

UPDATE: More from Greg, the Muse, and Progressive Texan, who gives a comprehensive play-by-play of the call.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 16, 2006 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack