Houston’s alternative Wi-Fi plan is mystifying

Early this year, Houston decided to take $3.5 million from EarthLink in exchange for releasing EarthLink from its obligation to build out the citywide Wi-Fi network. Houston had planned to create small Wi-Fi hotzones (called “Wi-Fi bubbles”) in targeted low-income neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, as the Houston Chronicle reports, instead of creating Wi-Fi hotzones that allow anyone in the neighborhood to access the Internet wirelessly, the city is limiting access to people who enrol in certain classes and programs in community centers:

“Instead, the city is using $3.5 million from a settlement with Earthlink to provide computers and free high-speed connectivity to community centers, nonprofit groups and schools. And because the network will be password-protected, the wireless connection it provides will be cut off from all but those who participate in classes and programs at the locations.” (my emphasis)

Assume you are a low-income person living within one of the Wi-Fi bubbles. You have a desktop or laptop but you are not enrolled in one of the community center programs. You want to get online in your home (for example, you are doing homework or looking for jobs online). You don’t want to walk to the community center to get Internet access because it’s late in the evening and dangerous to walk outside. Under Houston’s current plan, you cannot use the network. This makes no sense at all. If Houston wants to benefit low-income neighborhoods, they should open the network to everyone living there. Period.

A much better model can be found in San Francisco where Meraki is setting up Wi-Fi networks in housing projects and low-income neighborhoods. Meraki works with the city and non-profits, but anyone in those neighborhoods has access to the wireless network.


  1. That is dumb, I hope houston doesn’t go through with that and goes back to the original plan or something like what San Francisco is doint. The point is being missed.