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David Heck

May 26, 2005 By

Home to Arizona State University, Tempe has a whole different demographic to deal with besides the usual citizenry. Partly in response to the pressures of a younger constituent base, the city and university created a free Wi-Fi zone covering the downtown area, and the City Council voted in April to award a five-year contract to Mobile Pro, expanding Wi-Fi coverage to the entire city.

Many cities have built their own giant Wi-Fi zones, or clouds, to sell wireless Internet access to residents, but Tempe chose to barter with potential providers. Heck discussed the thoughts and decisions that went into increasing Wi-Fi coverage.

Sometimes Wi-Fi initiatives are cast as adversarial situations, pitting the city against the incumbent ISP in the area. That doesn't seem to be the case in Tempe.

That's not a business we want to get into -- providing telecom services as a utility. However, we're interested in bringing in the best telecom services to Tempe as possible. This is the mechanism for doing that and bringing additional services to Tempe government.

What bartering arrangement would you like to set up with potential wireless providers?

Wi-Fi companies need a density of antennas within the city to provide and sell their service. The city is looking at a lease of our light poles and use of the power already in those light poles to power the radios. In lieu of an annual lease payment to the city, we'd trade that payment for services to the city, so our departments, police, fire, public works and whatnot could utilize the network out in the field.

We'd prefer to get access to the network itself. If we had to put in our own wireless network for police and fire and public works, we would probably end up spending more money than we would take in from the revenue coming in.

When you put the RFPs out, did you get what you were looking for?

We took a two-step process. We issued an RFI first to see what the interest was. We got 18 submittals and probably another dozen calls. There was a lot of interest at that time. A lot of it was geared to coming in and installing an infrastructure for Tempe to manage, which is not what we had intended.

We tried to say that in our RFI, but people wanted to change our minds -- it's no risk to them, they get their capital up front and it's somebody else's problem.

We then worked on an RFP, and we made it very clear what our direction was. We sent that out, and all of a sudden we didn't have that many folks interested anymore. We got four responses, and a few people calling and saying we were out of our minds and that nobody was going to want to do this.

My thought is, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." I think it will work, and I think we will go forward with it.

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