Glenn Sangiovanni: Elected Officials Should Lead The Way On Municipal Wireless

When I was the Mayor of St. Cloud, Florida and was first approached about doing a Municipal Wireless project I needed to understand what’s in it for my constituents.When I was the Mayor of St. Cloud, Florida and was first approached about doing a Municipal Wireless project I needed to understand what’s in it for my constituents.

Once we started peeling back the layers of this onion, we found so much potential for Wi-Fi. We kicked off the project by doing what HP and MRI call the “Art of the Possible”. This journey of discovery was truly that. We explored the vast landscape of the different possibilities of municipal wireless and how deploying this technology could enhance the economic, educational and social fabric of the entire community.

Our Council at the time was looking for economic opportunities and this project was a complete surprise in that there were so many benefits not just for the community but for the municipal government as well. And it had to make good economic sense.
I always felt when I was an elected official that I had an obligation to lead my community. That is why they elected me. Early on it was clear there were too many benefits, both tangible and non-tangible, for this project that we could not ignore it.

Once we started to dig in, we found that our citizens were paying more annually for commercial incumbent Internet service than they were for all the services the City was providing including the roads, recreation, public safety, etc.

In the “Art of The Possible” we included everyone (citizens, business leaders, school officials, student body, hospitals, Chamber of Commerce, utility companies, telecoms, etc). We also utilized our city wide survey to help us gauge the interest from the entire citizenry. We needed to make sure we did our due diligence on the project. To me as an elected official at the time who was there to represent the people it was critical to conduct this survey.
The survey also serves as the City Council’s report card every year. There are no short cuts. You need to do your due diligence ito find out what your citizens want and expect out of you as an elected official. I can sit back and tell you I can justify my vote strictly on the economics of this project. We found that the operational costs of a municipal wireless system were actually revenue positive even without charging for the service, due to the cost savings in the delivery of city services.

In my 10 years sitting on City Council, I had never seen a capital project like this get such overwhelming support all the way through the process. Not one person came forward to speak negatively about the project. People just wanted to know “how soon can we have it?”

I am proud that St. Cloud chose to be a leader in this area. Elected officials can justify the costs of municipal wireless projects on the economic impact they have to the local economy. It is not often that an elected official can put money back in the pockets of their constituents.If you think it through, President Bush several years ago gave everyone a $300 tax break to spark the economy. In St. Cloud we have given the citizens $437 (the average annual cost to users for Internet access prior to the Cyber Spot) annually back in their pockets. The high cost of broadband Internet is real, but it is no longer a factor in the City of St. Cloud. We have not only provide a financial benefit to our residents, abut also inproved the quality of their lives. And I am very happy to have played a role in that success.

My advice to elected officials considering Wi-Fi is: do your due diligence and you will see, just like our City Council saw, deploying a municipal owned citywide network is truly is a no brainer.

But I am just one former elected official. Look what elected officials across the country are saying about Municipal Wireless and what benefits they envision.

Councilman Davis of St. Cloud: “While the free Wi-Fi Cyber Spot service is very new to our citizens and business community, they are quickly seeing the personal benefits and enhanced business possibilities. In a short time, we will all wonder how did we ever live without it. Every citizen, regardless of their economic status, now has access to information technology. Families have the opportunity to connect with their children’s school and help with homework over the Internet.”

City Commissioner Michael Blake, an early advocate for municipal Wi-Fi for Winter Springs: “In the future, Wi-Fi will be considered a basic utility like electricity or water. The system we’re going to build will be a tremendous resource for Winter Springs residents, our businesses, and especially our schools.”

City Manager of Chaska, Minnesota: “Many people view taxpayer-supported wireless networks as a utility service that’s good for the public. We saw this as a way to improve people’s quality of life.”

Mayor Charles Oldham of Sahuarita, Arizona: “Municipal wireless Internet will be a boon to the local economy of Sahuarita. As a town that has undergone significant residential growth and is now trying to attract commercial growth, the municipal Wi-Fi system will be instrumental in drawing companies to Sahuarita. The commercial growth will, in turn, boost residents’ quality of life by expanding the local economy, allowing residents to work close to home and bringing in more tax revenues for the Town.”

Once you have done your homework you will realize you can’t afford NOT to do it. Elected officials need to lead the charge so their communities can get the benefits St. Cloud citizens are now realizing.

Benefits such as:

  • Improved Public Safety
  • Increased Internal Productivity
  • Enhanced Educational Infrastructure
  • Economic Development
  • Elimination of the Digital Divide
  • Quality of Life

As an elected official that is a pretty good legacy to leave behind when you leave office. So what are you waiting for?

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Glenn Sangiovanni is the former Mayor of St. Cloud, Florida having served 5 terms on Council. As Mayor he led the charge for the City Council on the Cyber Spot, bringing 100% free high-speed wireless Internet access to every citizen in his community as a public service. He is now a Vice President for MRI a firm that consults with municipalities on brand identity, economic development and municipal wireless systems. Glenn can be reached at gsangiovanni@aboutmri.com.

Comments

  1. I have been watching the success story of St. Cloud since its beginning. As we talk about the technologies of municipal wireless we forget it’s not about wireless technologies its about people. At the last Silicon Valley MuniWireless 06 Convention I listened to a lot of people and as a not for profit got to slip in the CIO roundtable. There were great round table stories with CIO’s all having there own insights. The cities that were successful in deploying municipal wireless models listen to there city employees and citizens first.

    This is why St. Cloud was a success and also why Phoenix was a success. You have to get the buy in first. You need to learn that “Art of the Possible” approach or you can never move forward. Glenn you did a great job at the last Florida League of Cities and I had majors on commissioners coming back and at last getting it. Many of us that are involved in municipal wireless are from the technical side and we need to understand that it is not about technology, it is about people. Glenn you did a great job showing that