Houston Will Get Limited Muni Wifi Despite Earthlink

When last year it was announced that Houston was to get municipal wifi network I had to applaude Mayor Bill White for his vision and drive. There are vast number of people in this city for whom the internet is not readily accessible.

Houston is a huge city with a more pronounced digital divide than many other places. It’s the kind of place where opportunity presented to low income neighborhoods can make a big difference in the lives of people.

Turning a potential defeat into a small victory the Mayor has decided to roll out muni wifi in the form of a series of isolated locations they’re calling “wifi bubbles.” The project is funded by a portion of the $5 million that Earthlink paid to get out of their contract. Wifi Network news has more details here.

I had also hoped that in the transition from Time-Warner Cable to Comcast last spring the city would take the opportunity to negotiate some backhaul capability into the franchise agreement. Sadly that was not the case. It’s so difficult to get governmental entities to step back and see the big picture. Very frequently they are tasked with specific concerns and cannot see broader opportunities.

The city received a considerable sum of money from Comcast. However, I’m told that they did not negotiate for any IP services provided to public buildings. I would have hoped that the city could offload some of its massive IT burden by relying upon the cableco’s network to provide IP to libraries, small city offices, etc. The services provided could have been a lot more valuable over time than the funds received.

At least there’s a start on the muni wifi. Hopefully that can grow over time as its benefits become publicly known.  If this is of any interest at all then you should read Brough Turner on the matter dealing with monopoly carriers taking advantage of public right of way to provide internet access.