Government Technology

EarthLink's Payout to Houston Funds Digital Divide Initiative



January 8, 2009 By

Houston became $5 million richer when its deal with EarthLink to build a free, 640-square-mile municipal Wi-Fi network imploded in 2007. It was one of several municipal Wi-Fi networks that floundered. The city's contract stipulated a $5 million penalty in the event the Internet service provider failed to build the network.

When EarthLink fled the municipal Wi-Fi industry, Houston got a check, which the city is using to spread Wi-Fi to low-income areas. Houston IT staff identified 10 underserved communities in which to install free Wi-Fi access at community organizations. The payout from the failed EarthLink contract also will fund PCs and training for users of those community organizations.

"You can't even get a job today unless you get online and fill out a job application," said Janis Benton, deputy director of IT for Houston, about the benefits of providing Wi-Fi.

Community organizations receiving Wi-Fi access include literacy programs and local Boys and Girls Clubs of America facilities.

"We have one organization that works with expectant mothers who are primarily Spanish speaking - giving them the tool sets to have healthy babies and to learn English," Benton said.

EarthLink's exit hasn't stalled the city's Wi-Fi ambitions. Houston plans to expand the downtown Wi-Fi network it built on its own dime for $300,000 that enabled 750 parking meters to accept credit cards. The project paid for itself after six months.

"I've never had an ROI (return on investment) more quickly than I did with the parking meter network," Benton said.

Downtown-dwellers may have Wi-Fi connectivity, even without EarthLink. Since July, Benton has run a pilot project using the meter-reading Wi-Fi network to offer free Wi-Fi connectivity to citizens. More than 5,000 users have connected so far, said Benton. Her staff is still observing how citizens utilize the connectivity so that they can find ways to make it more robust.

"We're finding that 70 percent of the use downtown is a handheld device. It's an iPhone. It's an iPod. It's people downtown for dinner surfing the Net," Benton said.

The city has a total of 25 Wi-Fi initiatives, including water meter-reading and wireless surveillance cameras.

For Houston's future beyond those initiatives, Benton is talking WiMAX technology.

 


| More

Comments

Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Improving Emergency Response with Digital Communications
Saginaw County, Mich., increases interoperability, communication and collaboration with a digital voice and data network, as well as modern computer-aided dispatch.
Reduce Talk Time in Your Support Center by 40%
As the amount of information available to citizens and employees grows each year, so do customer expectations for efficient service. Contextual Knowledge makes information easy to find, dropping resolution times and skyrocketing satisfaction.
Emerging Technology Adoption in Local Government
In a recent survey conducted by Government Technology, 125 local government leaders shared their challenges, benefits and priorities when adopting emerging technologies such as cloud, mobility and IP. Read how your jurisdiction’s adoption of technology compares to your peers.
View All

Featured Papers