The High-Tech Texan Blog

Friday, February 29, 2008

Say It Ain't So. Houston Getting Back in City WiFi business?

Just when we thought the City of Houston learned its lesson from trying to unwire the city from the tangled cables of the Internet, it looks as if they are giving it another try.

Less than six months removed from the unraveling of the Earthlink deal, the City's Digital Houston Initiative has released a Request for Information/Interest to prepare for a competitive solicitation to expand the current municipal wireless network. This RFI was released without the fanfare of the original muni-wireless RFP back in February 2006.

Earthlink was ultimately selected to build out a 600+ square mile area of ubiquitous wireless Internet access. Before one router was installed, the company decided spending $40 million+ on a service that very few people would use that they would kill the Houston project and get out of the muni-wireless business altogether.

Earthlink paid the City over $5 million due to a smartly written agreement by Mayor White's consultants. It is my understanding the City spent some of this money to build-out and beef-up its downtown wireless presence being used for public safety and public service.

So here we go again. Buried in the City's Bids & RFP's Formal Documents web page is an RFI that was sent to "vendors in the US network managed services, Internet service provider, and Wi-Fi Hotspot services market." See the full document PDF.

Here is the meat of the RFI:

6.0 Service Offerings

The City of Houston seeks Information from suitable providers for:
1. Network Operations Services - approaches for providing network operational support for the a “mixed use” municipal wireless broadband network. The objective is to identify options for providing back-office network operations for municipal broadband public safety, public service, digital inclusion, and ISP wholesale customers.

2. Hotspot
Network Services - This RFI seeks options to extend Hotspot amenity services to venues and business establishments in designated high traffic areas across the city. The City intends to consider the opportunity of extending free WiFi access to Houstonians and visitors, provide venues and business with competitive services, and monetize excess network capacity using ad-based hot spot business models.

Today, the Houston downtown business district has ubiquitous WiFi network coverage that was primarily implemented to support the electronic parking meter payment system. This network has significant excess capacity that could be extended to the public through downtown venues and business establishment Hotspots.

3. ISP and Open Access Wholesale Management
Services - to provide undeserved Houston communities with competitive broadband services by extending excess capacity in the municipal broadband network through a wholesale open access services to multiple retail service providers.

Internet applications and services such as VoIP, video, music and e-learning are raising the bar on the minimum symmetrical speed and QoS required to access popular applications. Most under served communities do not have affordable broadband service options that sufficiently support a wide range of applications, including video.

Do we really need a citywide network with more Hotspots popping up at affordable costs or even free access (i.e. AT&T/Starbucks)? Are consumers and businesses willing to pay for not-so-speedy access?

I doubt the City will put up any of its funds to build and operate such a project since they initially found a third-party company in Earthliuk to put up the money. Though that process slowed down the Digital Houston Initiative by a few years it seems Mayor White still wants to leave a legacy of wireless Internet and bridging that digital divide.

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  • ** I doubt the City will put up any of its funds to build and operate such a project since they initially found a third-party company in Earthliuk to put up the money. **

    The city funding will be indirect.

    The only way this can work is if the city effectively commits several million dollars to the project over a specified period as an "anchor tenant."

    Thanks for reporting this.

    By Blogger Kevin Whited, at 9:46 PM  

  • Great information provided and I checked site out, and it's great. Thanks......You saved me a lot of time and money.

    Houston RFP Opportunities

    By Blogger Houstonbids, at 4:18 AM  

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