CIO Symmetry

May 13 2008   8:19PM GMT

Anybody want a free Wi-Fi network?

Glen Weaver Profile: The Weave

A few weeks ago I wrote on the site about the attempts to set up a Wi-Fi network across four square miles of downtown Augusta, Ga.

The story addressed the challenges – increasingly appearing insurmountable – to municipalities trying to employ this trend.

It boils down to service providers not seeing an ROI in partnering with a city for the opportunity to provide a service already provided to residents on an individual basis. And now that wireless access cards let laptop users connect to the Internet while sitting just outside a cornfield (I’ve done this), there’s not much need to pay for access to a network still limited to a city’s borders.

So the attempts have fallen, one at a time. Today we can add Philadelphia to the municipal Wi-Fi graveyard. Earthlink is pulling out of its Wi-Fi plans there, leaving behind a $17 million network nobody wants.

What a nightmarish proposition for a city CIO. As if it wasn’t already hard enough to run IT in a municipality. Equipment is old, city employees are underqualified and infrastructure is crumbling. Cities and towns sit at the bottom of the tax food chain. Think your budget’s tight now? Try running “computer services,” as the department is inevitably called.

Combine that mess with a clueless mayor scrambling for quick, easy press (“He’s making computers work everywhere! How progressive!”) and you’ve got a situation that would make any IT employee bury head in hands.

I wish the city of Augusta all the best. Limiting the network to downtown was a big step in the right direction. It doesn’t help garner votes, but it does make the project more realistic.

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