Boston marches to its own WiFi tune

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said that a city task force has recommended Boston designate a nonprofit entity to build a citywide wireless network.

The network, which would be owned and operated by a nonprofit organization yet to be announced, would offer WiFi broadband access that Internet service providers and other companies and organizations could use to deliver cheaper services to residents, businesses and government agencies, Menino said.

The mayor's announcement did not include any details on the technology proposed for the wireless network.

Menino said the plan, which includes no financial involvement by the city, would be for a nonproprietary network that would "create a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity, which will spur economic growth and job creation."

The network, which would be offered to Providers and other interested businesses at wholesale costs, would be built atop infrastructure already owned by the city.

The proposed nonprofit model aims to increase competition by offering retail Providers
a low-cost connection between Internet backhaul operators and potential customers. The nonprofit would enable those companies a chance to offer specialized and localized Internet services to end users. The city would be able to purchase Internet access at wholesale rates, Menino said.

This model differs from those employed in other cities, most of which have contracted with IT or Provider companies to install a network and offer services directly to citizens. Houston is currently evaluating proposals for a new WiFi network with an estimated price tag of $15 million, according to Federal Sources Inc., McLean Va.

Among the cities that have implemented pilot projects or are working to implement full-scale WiFi networks are Philadelphia; Anaheim, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Arlington, Va.; Pasadena, Calif.; San Francisco; and Tempe, Ariz.

By opening competition up beyond the existing players, typically cable and telecommunications providers, the city aims to increase competition and lower prices, Menino said.

Menino said the city would begin the second phase of development by establishing an internal team to study the network's potential impact on city services. He also said a volunteer group would begin seeking funding to implement the network.

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