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Oklahoma Free Wi-fi: Can Muskogee Follow Ponca City's Lead?
Muskogee, located in east central Oklahoma, is considering free Wi-Fi across the community to boost economic development. As a model, community leaders are looking at Ponca City. A recent Muskogee Phoenix article quoted the Interim City Manager:
“Our hope is that the public Wi-Fi initiative will distinguish us from other cities when it comes to attracting economic development, all the way from retail to industrial,” Interim City Manager Roy Tucker said. It “will most certainly increase the quality of life and educational opportunities of our citizens.”
Local citizens developed the Action in Muskogee (AIM) initiative to improve the community; the idea to provide free Wi-Fi grew out of the initiative. Muskogee hopes a Wi-Fi network will also improve public safety, government efficiency, and Internet access for citizens.
AIM participants hope to emulate Ponca City and its award-winning mesh network. City officials installed the wireless network in 2008. Residents of Ponca City save an estimated $3.9 million a year in avoided ISP costs. In other words, the network helps keep $3.9 million in the Ponca City economy.
Ponca City began its network in 1997 with a few miles of fiber to improve communications between municipal facilities. Each year the network grew and Ponca City now has over 350 miles of fiber. Municipal facilities, schools, hospitals, healthcare clinics, businesses, and even casinos use the fiber network. According to the article, Ponca City sells Internet access via the fiber to local business customers to fund the mesh network and free Wi-Fi for the community.
Muskogee has no plans to install a publicly owned fiber network like Ponca City's. Another Phoenix article suggested Muskogee leaders may pursue a public-private arrangement:
“Our intent is to partner with an Internet service provider, such as Suddenlink, to provide this service,” Tucker said. “And I don’t think the speeds we will be able to deliver — at least initially — will match what people can get through their regular providers.”
Ponca City has installed over 500 wireless routers covering 150 square miles. While the buzz focuses on their wireless mesh achievement, we want to point to Ponca City's significant fiber footprint. The fiber network provides necessary backhaul for the Wi-Fi network. Without the revenue it generates through business services, free Wi-Fi would probably not be available to the community. Ponca City leveraged their fiber asset to benefit the entire community several times over.