St. Louis gets ATT to unwire the city without going through a public tender

As I reported a few days ago, the mayor of St. Louis persuaded the city council to consider letting ATT deploy a citywide Wi-Fi network without a public tender. The city council approved the plan today saying that it has no money to build the network, so it has to get a private company to do it. As I reported a few days ago, the mayor of St. Louis persuaded the city council to consider letting ATT deploy a citywide Wi-Fi network without a public tender. The city council approved the plan today saying that it has no money to build the network, so it has to get a private company to do it. Estimated cost is $200,000 per square mile (which seems on the high side to me).

I don’t know if the St. Louis city council has ever read or any newspaper for that matter. A lot of cities that don’t want to spend public funds issue RFPs to get private companies to deploy municipal wireless networks.

Why? Because the whole point behind municipal wireless is to break the cable-DSL duopoly, that is, to get someone who is NOT an incumbent operator to create an open network. ATT is an incumbent operator.

It is disturbing to see a city not even bother with an RFP. How does St. Louis know that it got the best deal? Why not see what EarthLink and MetroFi might have proposed? If, in the end, ATT has the best offer, then the city would have chosen it anyway (as Riverside, California did).

Under ATT’s plan, the first 20 hours is free, then you have to pay. If you already have their DSL service it’s an extra $7 per month. New customers pay $30 per month.


  1. Bob Babione says

    One St. Louis resident’s perspective:

    The “process” involved in adopting the measure is, in my
    opinion, typical of the city’s politics. (I’ve lived here
    since 1957.) Basically a small, secretive group, known as
    Civic Progress, does what it wants to do. Not all of the Civic Progress members are city residents. The predecessor of AT&T was Southwestern Bell Corporation. The predecessor of SBC was Southwestern Bell, then headquartered in St. Louis and one of the city’s big downtown employers. When
    Southwestern Bell was around, its president probably was a
    member of Civic Progress.

    My neighborhood, Forest Park Southeast, is adjacent to the
    Washington University Medical Center. WUMC has had a long
    interest in the neighborhood. It is one of the largest
    employers in the region. It has a close relationship with
    the alderman for its area and my neighborhood. Probably it
    has a Civic Progresss seat.

    In short, there is a network that runs the city.

    Back in 2001, I worked on a proposal for a cooperative (as
    in early electrical and telephone cooperatives) to bring
    high speed wireless to my neighborhood. See
    My idea was to get WUMC to provide a “wholesale”
    link to the backbone at the medical center; a few buildings
    in the neighborhood have lines of sight to medical center
    buildings. The buildings in the neighborhood, both business
    and residential, are close together, without trees between
    them. It seemed to me that the environment was better than
    that on college campuses that already had wireless networks.

    When I mentioned the project to the WUMC official assigned
    to oversee the neighborhood’s redevelopment, he immediately
    suggested that he thought something could be worked out with
    Southwestern Bell. My impression was that he had a business
    deal in mind, a deal that a majority of residents could not
    afford. I did not pursue the matter with him.

    When I brought up the subject to a city agency responsible
    for revitalizing impoverished neighborhoods, the staff
    responded that its technical staff I would have to prove the idea would work before anything could be done. The existence of networks at colleges and a few other places was not convincing, I did not think I had the resources for site surveys, and I had other things to do.

    Ordinary folks are not part of the network that runs the
    city. Nor, in my experience, is the network that does run the city interested in diversification of outlooks.

    Another opinion about how the city operates (and the
    environment for the current “free” wifi program):

  2. Frank Robinson says

    History is no doubt involved here. The last time St.Louis stood up to Ed Whitacre (SWBT,SBC,ATT) he pulled out thousands of jobs and moved them to Texas. Unfortunately St.Louis has not been a hotbed of job creation. AT&T came knocking and this time the Mayor made sure he had the welcome mat out. Tough call…

  3. Bob Babione says

    Some additional information is in a February 13, 2007, article in the Southwest City Journal:
    by Shawn Clubb,
    * * * *

    Quote from Clubb’s article:

    Alderman Matt Villa, D-11th ward, chairman of the public utilities committee, said he has worked with representatives from the mayor’s office, technology director Mike Wise and the communications division on this arrangement over the last year.

    “It did not happen overnight,” Villa said.

    Wise said it would cost the city $7 million to build its own Wi-Fi system. He said the city will pay nothing under the deal with AT&T, which will buy and install the equipment. AT&T then would encourage people to purchase higher-speed Wi-Fi service.

    The deal is not exclusive, Wise said. Other providers also could offer Wi-Fi.

    * * * *

    The article says three aldermen voted against the bill and cites Aldeman Terry Kennedy as being concerned that the agreement could be viewed as political.

    * * * *

    It might be interesting to find out how often over the last year the item was on the published agendas of the meeting Alderman Villa had to develop the deal. The bill appears to be BB # 416, which is online. However, I have not found the incorporated agreement online.

    * * * *
    Board minutes on the bill:
    Mr. Villa moved for third reading and final passage of Board Bill #416CS
    Seconded by Mr. Schmid
    Carried by the following vote:
    ayes: Troupe, Flowers, Ford-Griffin, Shelton, Young, Conway, Ortmann, Vollmer, Villa,
    Heitert, Wessels, Gregali, Florida, Baringer, Roddy, Schmid, Jones-King, Boyd, Hanrahan,
    Kirner, Williamson, Carter, Krewson, President Shrewsbury. 24
    noes: Bosley, Kennedy, Waterhouse. 3

  4. Bob Babione says

    A followup article about the St. Louis deal is in The Riverfront TImes: Wired 4 Wireless, How did AT&T manage to be the only company bidding on the contract to bring Wi-Fi to St. Louis? By Chad Garrison