Friday, October 27, 2006

NonProfit Approach for City WiFi

From Wireless Toronto - Following Philadelphia and Washington D.C., Boston appears poised to take the non-profit route to providing “civic bandwidth”.... more and more cities seem to be recognizing that relying on private (profit-oriented) providers may be counterproductive to genuinely addressing “digital divide” issues.

Richard O’Bryant from the Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University has emphasized that there are some key issues that must be considered, lest Boston (or any other city considering public Wi-Fi) end up in a “we built it but noone came” scenario.

According to O’Bryant, these issues (and recommendations for addressing them) include:

1) policy makers should refrain from the temptation of the city becoming an Internet or quasi-Internet service provider. The service should be attached to institutions and entities that will not be so readily subject to changes in leadership and leadership ideologies and priorities.

2) build the system as a public and private partnership. However, the process should be a bottom-up instead of top-down approach. In particular, identify community level individuals and groups to develop specific community needs assessments and gauge, (i.e. through polling/surveys), what the expected utilization rates might be.

3) policy makers should also be prepared to inform and train residents, specifically those technologically challenged, on how to make meaningful use of their new found wireless Internet service.

O’Bryant’s recommendations are right on, and are good starting points for any plan of this nature…

Non-Profit may Run Boston Wi-Fi Network

Associated Press BOSTON — The city is considering an unusual approach to creating a citywide, low-cost wireless Internet network: putting a non-profit organization, rather than a private service provider, in charge of building and running the system. A City of Boston Wireless Task Force Report released Monday recommended that Mayor Thomas Menino assign an as-yet unidentified non-profit to raise the $16-million to $20-million (U.S.) in private money that the city estimates it will need to build and begin running the Wi-Fi network. Other cities have generally relied on a single private contractor to assume up-front costs and financial risk for a chance to expand its business. Although Boston’s strategy depends on the willingness of foundations and businesses to come forward with cash donations, officials believe having an existing or newly formed non-profit in charge is the best way to ensure the project meets its civic goals and steers clear of special interests.

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