South Bend, Indiana gets downtown hotzone

The South Bend Tribune reports that starting May 1, downtown South Bend will have free Wi-Fi (during the first three months), thanks to the St. Joseph County Public Library. The library’s board voted 6-0 to purchase $30,000 of equipment and training to create a wireless mesh downtown. The network may later be extended to other parts of the city. TheThe South Bend Tribune reports that starting May 1, downtown South Bend will have free Wi-Fi (during the first three months), thanks to the St. Joseph County Public Library. The library’s board voted 6-0 to purchase $30,000 of equipment and training to create a wireless mesh downtown. The network may later be extended to other parts of the city. The library is working with the city, the Michiana Free-Net Society and St. Joe Valley Metronet. The news comes just two weeks after an anti-municipal broadband bill died in committee in the Indiana state legislature.

Wi-Fi access will primarily be outdoors, so it does not compete with wired broadband service. Nevertheless, local for-profit ISPs complained, raising the usual objections: the city competes with private enterprise, you never know who’s posting porno, what about security, etc. In fact, the South Bend article says that CyberLink, an ISP is thinking of suing the library to stop the project — in my opinion, a very bad idea, from a PR point of view. If South Bend or any other Indiana municipality gets around to deploying a citywide network (and putting out an RFP for the project), I’m sure they’ll remember CyberLink, but not in a positive way. Many cities ask private ISPs to help them provide wireless broadband service, so as an ISP, one should remain on their “good” side. SBC as usual showed up and complained that they did not like the idea of using public funds for the project (unlike SBC of course who never gets public funds). What opponents do not care to mention is that the project is really a public-private partnership that threatens the old-style ISP/telco monopoly business model.

Supporters of the project like it because they feel it will increase competition and may force the ISPs and telcos to lower their prices for wireless access. The city likes it because many residents, visitors and business people view Wi-Fi access (“always on everywhere”) as a necessary service.

TroCor Corporate Services will be installing the hardware and software and providing training. Michiana Free-Net is operating the network. Indeed, because the library is already paying for three high-speed Internet lines, it makes sense to share the bandwidth with the public.

Here’s something interesting mentioned in the article: apparently there is a plan for seven employers in the area “to invest $2.3 million in St. Joe Valley Metronet, a fiber-optic network that a nonprofit group would operate using city-owned underground pipes. It would provide low-cost broadband communication services.” With that kind of backhaul you can really build a robust citywide wireless broadband network not just for public access, but for all kinds of municipal applications such as public safety, automated meter reading, etc. Projects such as this increase the ability of people and municipalities to experiment with new types of applications and services.

*****COMMENTS*****

Jim Aimone writes:

I am in favor of select Public Private Open Space WLAN projects, however I must make the following comment here. If cities elect to begin offering their own public networks and offer them free it will have an immediate impact on competition in the following negative way. The new emerging WISP looking to get in to these open space markets will find that they cannot offer a viable service here (hard to compete with free) and ultimately they will walk away completely from the market thus eliminating the threat of competition for the Telco. The Telco benefits as it then has exclusive access to the wired and Fixed Wireless subscribers.

Comments

  1. The Fight For Municipal WiFi Access Comes to Town

    So while the local newspaper has decided to take something away, the city itself has decided to give something back. In a direct rebuke to

  2. Sen McCartney says

    As odd as it sounds, I forsee this:

    Television, radio, news, and communication (phones, email, etc.) will be supplied via a free wireless system to all. What won’t be free are the premium services provided via Wi-Fi. Things like premium channels, movies, music albums, complete internet (not just limited to email and such), and outgoing calls will have charges in either a per use or monthly subscription plan.

    If this happens, the question of who supplies the Wi-Fi becomes mute. The question becomes who do you pay for the services.

    Of course, this will take some technological consolidation. Nevertheless, within 10 years we’ll be checking our in boxes for the latest edition of Time magazine with the same thing we talk to our grandparents on, which is also the machine that gets us to eBay.