Minneapolis Unwired: Dead zones & IOUs (plus a Wi-Fi in the parks update)

Steve Alexander has a report on the Minneapolis Wi-Fi deployment at the Star Tribune. Judging from the dates on the comments, I think it’s from May 26 but there’s no dateline on the story.

The gist is that it’s not done which is also the ongoing mantra. “It’s always something” as Gilda would say. Prospect Park is still a “challenge” area and there are others around the metro–a total of three square miles still unwired. The park issue I reported on before seems to be resolved and a contract is in place with a bit of money changing hands from US Internet to the Park Board. (Read details over at the eDemocracy Forum).

The City of Minneapolis is using only $50,000 worth of services but paying $1.25 million per year. The article says the money carries over (an IOU so to speak) so supposedly we will get full value eventually. Some reasons we aren’t getting full value now are because the network needs to actually be complete before Police and Fire will mess with it and because some City departments are slow in adopting the service.

Alexander talks about using the network to track video from a police car going 80mph. I would love to know how that is possible. I don’t think the current network, in areas where it is fully implemented, allows you to smoothly travel from node to node in a car without losing the connection some of the time. So do we have a “special” high-speed backend network for police and fire? I know there is a “public safety” channel or something but if it’s still in the Wi-Fi range, it would be subject to all kinds of interference.

US Internet meanwhile says they now have 14,000 subscribers. Those numbers should eventually translate to cash infusions in the City’s Digital Inclusion Fund with a minimum of 5% of net pretax income. The fund has $100,000 left of the initial $500,000 from US Internet. The fund and the money are part of the Community Benefits Agreement in the contract. I’m on the Digital Inclusion Fund Committee and so far we have not heard when we will receive more money and we have postponed this years grant-making cycle.

We are still the muni-wi-fi poster child of the world. It’s working here because the City of Minneapolis signed on as anchor tenant and is paying a hefty fee to support a network. However, unless the City starts to get its money’s worth of services soon, we may have rethink this poster child status.

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