Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wi Fi Fo Fum...

On Tuesday Trenton's City Council will be on the receiving end of a presentation from the would be provider of a city wide WiFi wireless network.

Mayor Palmer touted this in his recent State of the City address so we might assume, judging from past experience, that the Mayor considers this all but a done deal. In fact, recent history tells us that if the administration wants it and City Council approval is required, so it shall be.

Of course the vendor-to-be will put its best face on and sell lots of sizzle to Council. Business Administrator (and part-time city resident) Jane Feigenbaum will note all the positives that adopting this technology will bring to city services. Non-resident Police Director Joseph Santiago, in his appearance before Council next-week, will no doubt tout the benefits of a City-wide wireless network to improve policing (like surveillance cameras that work?). To be sure, a strong case will be made for adopting this technology as a way to help bridge the "technology gap" between Trenton residents.

While these arguments and benefits need to be weighed, so too should the facts and experiences of other municipalities around the country who are considering WiFi networks as well.

The facts are pretty clear to even the least techno-savvy layman: the technology is not yet sufficient to provide a low-cost, wide-spread, consistent network. The cost of installation and maintenance are not insignificant and too high for most municipal governments to bear alone. For an outside vendor to provide cost-effective, profitable service the system must be supported either by advertising, subscription/access fees or some combination of both.

In neighboring Hamilton Township, there is free public access to wireless internet in Veterans Park. Before you can log-in you have to register (for marketing purposes) and there are ads on the access home page. And this is just to cover the costs of providing access in one limited area of the township.

Just downriver, Philadelphia's ambitious plan to provide wireless internet access across the city has been a less than glowing success. Some residents still haven't been able to achieve proper connectivity and Earthlink, Philly's service provider, has actually regrouped and stopped bidding on contracts elsewhere as they seek a build a better business model.

Before any decisions are made whether or not to approve a wireless internet package for Trenton, the contract should be reviewed thoroughly by an independent consultant. Of course, this won't happen.

The Palmer administration has already reportedly turned down on offer from a professional consultant (and city resident) to review any proposals from interested vendors. Admittedly the consultant is a frequent critic of the way the city goes about its business, but is that really a reason to turn down free, qualified help?

Lacking any real due diligence on the part of the Mayor's hand picked henchmen (and women), it is up to the members of City Council to do their own homework.

We should all encourage our elected representatives to study not only the "facts" placed in front of them but to also research how other municipalities are approaching this technological frontier? City Council has the resources and the responsibility to gather the facts independent of those spoon fed them by the administration.

...this may be an idea who's time has not yet come.

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