Gary Clauss: Can we get citywide broadband?


At the town council meeting tonight in Silver City, Councilor Gary Clauss asked about the possibility of providing city-wide broadband to the community. It’s an ambitious idea for a town the size of Silver City – most municipalities to date with citywide Wi-Fi plans have been much, much larger (i.e. San Francisco and Philadelphia).

Still, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Internet access is a bottleneck for expanding education and creating employment opportunities. Many argue convincingly that ‘Net access, in this day in age, is like education, water and waste removal: an essential service that should be provided by communities.

Indeed, look at Rio Rancho. Sure, they have Intel to help them out, but they would also have a much larger subscriber base. Start with this eWeek article from October 2004:

The city has worked out a license agreement with Ottawa Wireless that resembles a cable television franchise in some ways. The city gives Ottawa Wireless access to public right of way. In return, Ottawa Wireless will pay a fee for being allowed to operate in the city. Palenick said that the fee is 3 percent of the gross after the company receives $100,000 gross per month. That fee goes up to 5 percent for revenues between $300,000 and $500,000. Once monthly revenues reach $500,000, the fee goes to 7 percent.

Van Houwelingen said that he expects his company to start seeing significant revenues early on. He noted that the basic rate for a fixed wireless installation would be $19.95 per month for access speeds of 256K bps. A mobile wireless user would pay $5 more per month. Higher speeds are available at higher rates.

Now, check the transition to March 2006:

It’s not 100 percent official yet, but if the city council of Rio Rancho, New Mexico votes as expected tomorrow night, that municipality will soon offer citywide Wi-Fi Internet access to every resident and visitor for free.

Azulstar Networks of Grand Haven, Michigan is the provider of the Rio Rancho network (as well as a few in its home state). Up until this point, the company was charging for wireless Internet access with different tiers of service ranging from 256 Kilobits per second (Kbps) up to 1.5 Megabits (Mbps). If the vote goes through, however, anyone can go online in the city for free, though limited to a 100Kbps download data rate — and only for 10 hours per month, with $1.50 per minute charges for tech support.

That’s right, free wireless access. The provider has a portal that users must pass through when connecting, and they generate revenue from advertising sales on that portal. Meanwhile, the residents get free broadband.

I truly hope Clauss will follow up on this, and other city officials as well. This is the type of progressive, economic development measure that most everybody can get behind. I’m crossing my fingers.

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