The High-Tech Texan Blog

Monday, August 20, 2007

Is the City's Earthlink deal "ovah"?

Summer has come and almost gone and Earthlink has yet to start the build out of the City's 600+ square mile wireless network. Am I surprised? Not really.

It is a big undertaking on many counts. 18,000+ wireless access points installed on lightposts, buildings and towers. $50 million+ in costs.

But Earthlink is taking a long hard look at the revenue projected to recoup their potential investment. With a new CEO who may have a different agenda from building municipal wireless networks. Rolla P. Huff is now running the Atlanta-based company; a telecom vet known for his willingness to cut loose unprofitable projects.

If I was a betting man (and I have been known to frequent Vegas), I might put down some shekels on Earthlink cutting its losses by paying the City the $5 million penalty fee for not completing the network build out. (see contract here)

With Earthlink or not, the City is planning to move forward with a WiFi network. Richard Lewis's City IT office recently launched a web site that will soon be updated with opportunities for WiFi jobs and partnerships, economic development information and - believe it or not - sponsorship opportunities.

There are currently 100 or so radio towers around the city outfitted with WiFi gear. Downtown Houston has a system in place for parking meters, all libraries are hotspots along with Jones Plaza, the GRB Convention Center and Miller Outdoor Theater is planning for a system. That $5 million could go a long way to connect all these systems for a ubiquitous government wireless network to be used by Police and Fire.

Then as the system becomes more robust it could be open for public access. Since the City has no intention of running a consumer network, they could outsource the maintenance and operations.

So now we wait for Earthlink's Board of Directors to announce their plans. From what I understand they met today. Will they ask the City to pony-up for capital costs or even ask for a delay? In the meantime, just cruise to one of the many already-up-and-running local hotspots and fire up your laptop.

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