...[t]he Wi-Fi quilt--among the largest in the country when finished--will start unfurling over Pierce County as soon as November."
CenturyTel is proposing a multi-million dollar investment in Pierce County. First, the company will build pilot projects in several of the member jurisdictions--smaller suburban cities--of the RCC. Following an evaluation of these projects, CenturyTel will begin work on a county-wide wireless network, primarily as a backup for public safety that crosses jurisdictional boundaries. Residents and businesses will receive free service during a 60-day test period in the pilot project areas, which may include downtown Tacoma.
A limited-capacity, free Wi-Fi service is planned for full deployment with higher capacity Internet services offered to citizens throughout the county at a competitive price. This is the model already being explored by Oakland County, MI--and it's a good one.
The BIA is excited about the prospect of wireless Internet access throughout downtown Tacoma, especially for great public spaces like the Plaza, but there are still some hurdles to clear. We're completing an update of our earlier white paper on wireless Internet prepared for the Tacoma Technology Consortium and we've been asked to participate in a focus group for the RCC next month. Despite winning the competition for a request for proposals, CenturyTel may find it harder than Dan thinks to build out a system, because:
- CenturyTel is a newcomer to the market--their only experience with Wi-Fi is deployment of a mesh network in Vail, CO, now under construction;
- Participating jurisdictions must make available the use of streetlights, utility poles and other tall structures (“vertical mounting assets”)--closely guarded assets with a high market value, and especially problematic in Tacoma where they are not controlled by the City [Note: this idea may not even be working in Vail, according to this news story];
- Local public safety officials remain skeptical of the security of any wireless network.