Minneapolis Plans to Go Wireless

Days after Philadelphia rolls out its plan to provide municipal broadband wireless Internet access to its residents, Minneapolis unveils a plan to unwire that metropolis.

Days after Philadelphia rolled out its plans to go wireless, Minneapolis unveiled plans to provide wireless Internet access to the citys business, residents, governmental officials and visitors.

The citys RFP, to be issued Wednesday, is expected to call for a privately owned, $15 million to $20 million citywide wireless and fiber-optic network. Contracts are expected to be issued later this year. The service should be available to residents late in 2006.

/zimages/2/28571.gifIs Philadelphias project the worst-case scenario for municipal Wi-Fi? Click here to read what Carol Ellison has to say about this.

The network will facilitate government communications, linking city buildings, police and inspectors to the citys databases. Excess capacity will be made available to provide service to businesses, residents and guests. Rates are expected to range between $18 and $24 per month for connections of 1M bps to 3M bps.

Fiber-optic connections will be available to businesses that need greater speed, and city officials expect the network will spur economic development as businesses seek locations that can provide low-cost, high-speed Internet access.

Chaska, Minn., a city of 22,000 that neighbors Minneapolis, launched a municipal wireless service last year. Service there is provided by access points connected to the citys gigabit fiber backbone, delivering up to 3MB of bidirectional service. Chaska.net charges $15.99 per month for the service.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about wireless service in Chaska and other cities.

Under the Minneapolis plan, the network will be built, owned and operated by the winning bidder. No tax money will be used. That contrasts with a similar plan in Philadelphia, which will also spend no tax money on a plan to provide wireless service across its 135-square-mile area, where the city plan calls for establishing a not-for-profit foundation that will raise money from foundation grants, issue taxable bonds and seek low-interest loans to fund the project.

Both cities plans reflect a trend in turning to outside sources to fund, deploy and manage the network. By not relying on taxpayer money, the cities avoid direct conflict with telecoms and cable companies that have fought such plans with well-financed ad and public relations campaigns claiming they waste taxpayer dollars.

In 2003, cable companies and telecoms defeated a referendum in suburban Chicago that would have created the Tri-City Broadband authority to deploy municipal broadband across several communities. Fiber for Our Future, a citizen committee that favors municipal broadband service, claimed the cost of companies advertising campaign against the initiative ranged into the seven figures.

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