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San Jose Hopes 3rd Time is the Charm for Muni Wi-Fi
In an attempt to regain some of its Silicon Valley shine, San Jose, California is taking another run at municipal Wi-Fi. The city hopes that by covering a 1.5 square mile block of downtown with fast, robust wireless Internet access, it will become more attractive to the technology entrepreneurs who have, in recent years, been more likely to set up shop in other parts of the valley.
San Jose has twice attempted to offer free public Wi-Fi through privately owned and operated networks. In 2004, Global Netoptex deployed hotspots that never really worked. In 2006, MetroFi tried offering advertising-supported wireless, but was unable to generate enough revenue to cover costs. Just two years later, after failed attempts to sell its networks to the cities in which they operated (including Santa Clara, Cupertino, and Portland, Oregon) MetroFi went out of business.
This time, the City is investing its own funds in a network that will both serve the City’s own communications needs and offer free public access. San Jose is paying approximately $100,000 in start-up costs, and is committing to $22,000 in annual operating expenses. The City’s CIO, Vijay Sammeta, says the City is getting “a sweetheart deal” in exchange for its willingness to be a testing ground for software and firmware updates. Applications will include wireless parking meters and digital pay-to-park signs. The City expects cost savings from moving from other wireless connections to the Wi-Fi network will balance out the annual operating expense.
SmartWAVE will operate the network, which uses Ruckus technology. SmartWAVE operates successful Wi-Fi networks in Austin, Texas and Pima County, Arizona, among others. Ruckus Wireless is used in what is said to be the world’s fastest Wi-Fi network, in Seoul, South Korea. Its technology is said to focus radio frequency directly at users in order to overcome one of the biggest problems with public Wi-Fi, which is that speeds are severely compromised as soon as multiple users connect. According to CIO Sammeta, “it really is different and yes, beam forming does mean fewer access points and covering greater distances”.
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A new study from the Digital Equity LA initiative lays bare how low-income communities of color are impacted by the quiet business decisions of the county’s monopoly Internet service provider. Slower and More Expensive/Sounding the Alarm: Disparities in Advertised Pricing for Fast, Reliable Broadband details how Charter Spectrum “shows a clear and consistent pattern of the provider reserving its best offers - high speed at low cost - for the wealthiest neighborhoods in LA County.” Not only does it highlight how economically vulnerable households in LA County pay more for slower service than those in wealthy neighborhoods, it also provides evidence for how financially-strapped households are also saddled with onerous contracts and are rarely targeted by advertisements for Charter Spectrum’s low cost plans.