Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Houston WiFi - Back On The Block

The on again/off again Houston WiFi project is on again. As you remember, Earthlink paid $5 million last year to walk away from its contract to build a wireless network covering Houston's 600+ square miles. From today's Houston Chronicle:

On Monday, Mayor Bill White announced the city will use about $3.5 million of that money to build 10 free wireless network "bubbles" in low-income parts of Houston to give residents access they otherwise might do without. The long-term possibility, White said, is that the bubbles could be connected and the areas between them added to the network, providing WiFi access across the city.

Some other interesting tidbits.

...Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Verizon Wireless and Tropos Networks — which donated equipment for the Gulfton network — are pilot sponsors. HP will help develop an "affordable computer purchase plan," according to a news release.

...In addition to installing Internet service, the city is working with social service groups to provide computer access and training for users. Each bubble will include about 15 public access points at schools, city facilities and community organizations within the area.

In summary, this no longer looks like a project that will sustain itself through generated revenue as originally designed, but instead will be sponsor driven. With the implosion of projects elsewhere and a less than successful implementation in Philadelphia, how do you think this will play out here?


@pbuzz.com said...

The CoH is very tenacious when it determines that it wants to do something.

On the surface this can be viewed as an innovative initiative to spur growth within lower income minority communities. However, if you balance this against the onslaught of revitalization projects that have displaced the low income residents of these communities then you might say that the City is pulling the same ole Okey-Doke.

Forgive my lack of optimism or enthusiasm but I am just a bit leary of business initiatives that are built on a "no cost" for service model. Every program that I have seen that was built on the poor has always resulted in the well connected (pardon the pun) getting rich at the expense of the poor (i.e. agri-businesses that provide food for welfare programs, privatization of prisons).

DP said...

@pbuzz - You've been close enough to this and other projects over the years to know the potential pitfalls. I'm hoping that's not the case here, but you know how it is when there's money to be made.