Santa Monica issues RFP for citywide Wi-Fi network; interview with city CIO

Santa Monica, California has issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking a vendor to deploy, operate and maintain a ubiquitous wireless mesh broadband network in the city. Santa Monica covers an area of 8.3 square miles and has 87,000 residents; it lies on the coast within greater Los Angeles. Responses to the RFP are due back to the city bySanta Monica, California has issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking a vendor to deploy, operate and maintain a ubiquitous wireless mesh broadband network in the city. Santa Monica covers an area of 8.3 square miles and has 87,000 residents; it lies on the coast within greater Los Angeles. Responses to the RFP are due back to the city by 5:00 PM, Friday, June 30, 2006 (see the RFP for details). The network will be rolled out within twelve months after the contract is signed. The RFP is posted at www.smgov.net/isd. You can also download it from my site (but if you are a bidder, go to the Santa Monica site first and use that as the original source because cities something amend their RFPs).

Highlights of the RFP

Santa Monica will not use public funds to pay for the network, but it will provide access to the city-owned fiber network, network operations centers, light poles and other city property.

The vendor will deliver Internet access to residents, businesses and visitors. The city already provides free access in libraries and parks, and would like the vendor to continue to provide free access there. But it also wants respondents to propose a plan whereby free access would be provided throughout the city, perhaps at lower bandwidth, with a paid-for service at higher bandwidths. In addition to serving end users, the vendor should also sell access on a wholesale basis to other service providers.

Municipal use of the network

  • The network must support municipal applications such as utility meter reading; traffic and security cameras; traffic signal controller management; mobile communications for public safety vehicle computers and cameras; laptops, tablets and PDAs for facilities maintenance, building inspections and code enforcement activities.
  • The city requires 1 megabit bandwidth or better for the public and 1 to 3 megabit bandwidth for government use and prefers to see reliable 3 megabit speeds for mobile public safety vehicles without loss of bandwidth or connectivity. The network provider will be required to provide services to city departments for fixed, hand held (portable) and vehicle-mounted applications. The city has identified an initial number of devices to include 176 traffic signal controllers, 200 vehicle-mounted devices, 40 traffic cameras at MPEG-4 compression and 200 hand-held portable devices.
  • Future applications such as utility meter reading, parking occupancy detection, motion detection cameras and others are expected to be added to the system on the same terms negotiated for the initial ones.
  • The network must support government applications that will write, submit and print reports while in the field; view mug shots; support streaming video; have access to records management systems; provide access to the web and email; support portable computing applications; and VOIP.

Interview with Jory Wolf, city CIO

I interviewed Jory Wolf, chief information officer of Santa Monica, to find out why the city chose the model it laid out in the RFP, and what they plan to achieve by using the network for municipal applications and public access.

What is the city’s model and why did you choose it?

In our model, the city will not own the wireless network; the legal owner of the network will be the operator who wins the bid. Santa Monica already owns (and will continue to maintain) the fiber network that will be the backbone for the wireless network. The city will lease assets – for example, fiber and light poles – to the operator. We have agreements with schools and colleges in Santa Monica that are using the fiber network — there are network centers all around the city where the operator can lease space (45 facilities in total connected to the fiber network).

Santa Monica opted for this model because (a) the city does not just want to give away valuable assets and (b) does not want to compete with the private sector (i.e. ISPs). The city would like to see a competitive marketplace for broadband service: lots of service providers getting wholesale access from the winning bidder and delivering service to the end user. The city is not prepared to act as a service provider. It has no resources or know-how to do that.

Why not build a municipal-only network?

We thought about that at first – a network only for city services with public access delivered to certain locations such as libraries, parks, city hall, the pier, the Civic Auditorium. Santa Monica already provides Wi-Fi service in these locations and they would be “wrapped into” the muni-only citywide plan. But I asked, what about visitors? What if they find themselves outside these hotzones? There’s a citywide network – but they can’t use it because the public access part is only available in the hotzones. That just does not make sense. But the city is not a service provider, so we decided we had to partner with a private company to build a larger network that would allow for all of these uses. If the network were for the government only, sure, we would have done it ourselves. But if we want to open the network – citywide – to public access, we need to work with someone who has experience providing service to end users.

What about advertising-supported free service?

We will wait to see what the respondents propose. The Google model is interesting but it’s not the only one around, and this space is evolving. In fact, that is also one of the reasons why we did not want to do this ourselves. It’s hard for us, as government people, to keep up with the developments in the different ways that a network owner could recoup the costs of delivering service to the public, whether it’s ad-supported or fee-based, with all of the variations — Google’s model is just one of those variations. That’s something a commercial partner is much better at doing.

What are your top priorities for municipal applications on the network?

Police and fire departments, the city’s enterprise network — for example, code enforcement, building inspection and the like, traffic management (controlling signals at intersections to ease traffic flow and deal with emergencies like buses breaking down in the middle of Santa Monica Boulevard), parking control, security cameras.

Here’s an interesting application on a citywide network where all the signals and devices (including those on public transport) talk to one another: if a bus breaks down in the middle of an eastbound lane of Santa Monica Boulevard, we will know this immediately and be able use the wireless network to control the signal at the nearest intersections so that east-west bound traffic gets more time than north-south traffic. This allows the cars to get around the bus and not pile up behind it. In the meantime, a call is already sent out to the towing service to get the bus out of the way.

How about this for parking control: the parking lots along Pacific Coast Highway and the parking garages near the 3rd Street Promenade, a very popular outdoor shopping and dining area, get filled quickly on beautiful days especially in the summer. So people spend their time driving around looking for parking or even entering a lot that is already full. We will place wireless sensors in these lots to alert people before hand that the lot is full and they shouldn’t bother. We will be able to provide real time data on the parking situation in the beach lots on a GIS map — how many spaces are available, which cars are coming in and going out.

What about public safety?

The network will allow police officers to monitor cameras in the city yards, on the pier, at the airport and along the 3rd Street Promenade, no matter where they are in the city. During the summer we get huge crowds on the beach and along the 3rd Street Promenade, so it’s important for us to monitor these areas before things get out of hand. Police officers will also have cameras in their vehicles – these can stream video real-time and we will place mobile routers in the trunks of police cars so they can communicate with the network anywhere in the city.

Santa Monica does not have its own electric utility so the city had to deploy its own fiber network. We could not get it everywhere and it’s interesting to note that to get decent coverage in the city, we had to install fiber in abandoned water mains, too. We use the fiber network as a communications backbone for just about everything: our offices, libraries, traffic signals, cameras.

Could you give us some idea of the ROI to the city?

Right of the bat, we can cancel the EVDO subscriptions for the wireless cameras. This will save us $180,000. The city is always looking for ways to save money on telecommunications. When we got rid of our landlines, we saved $650,000 annually (out of the total $1.2 million we used to spend). We are all on VOIP and we are looking forward to saving even more money with mobile VOIP. For example, we have a very large new public library and our library employees use an IP-enabled Vocera device within the library.

And meter reading?

I expect our water department to use the network to the fullest extent. They are looking to retrofit all 17,000 water meters in the city and read them wirelessly.

Can you elaborate more on how the city would like to use the network to bridge the “digital divide”?

We already have free access in public spaces such as parks and libraries, and we’d like to see free access all over the city. Respondents to our RFP should propose what the free access would look like in terms of bandwidth, how they will support the costs of such access and so on. We have labs in parks that offer after-school assistance, and we would like to see respondents also propose ways to refresh the software and computers in those labs, especially since many of them are dedicated to teaching students about music and video editing, creating content, managing networks.

We are very excited about this project and we think it will make a huge difference in people’s lives, not just in the way we run our municipal operations, but in the way our residents live and work. And of course, because we get so many visitors every year, we want a city that works for them too.

Comments

  1. […] MuniWireless: […]

  2. I was able to log onto the SM City Wifi only
    once. After that I have been somehow locked out.
    I can’t logon as a guest. Very strange. At the
    downtown library I am able to access the net.
    Is this city spooky or what?

  3. Esme Vos says

    Jory Wolf, city CIO of Santa Monica says:

    The City has a policy that limits the public’s access to 1 hour in a 24 hour period at its Wi-Fi hot zones in public open spaces. This policy is in force to discourage businesses from using the free public wireless service as a substitute for commercial broadband. I believe this is what you experienced during your connection in Santa Monica.

    I hope you understand that there are thousands of businesses that would use this free service for profit if this policy were not in place and they would forgo using an ISP.