September 6, 2013 By Noelle Knell
Riverside, Calif., may shut down its free citywide wireless network -- thought to be one of the largest municipal Wi-Fi deployments in the U.S.
The Riverside City Council's Governmental Affairs Committee voted this week to remove most of the equipment associated with the free wireless network launched six years ago. Commissioners are supporting a recommendation offered by the city's Innovation and Technology Department, advising instead that the City offer better quality connectivity options, but in fewer areas.
An integral part of the much-lauded SmartRiverside program, the network was touted at the time of its launch as a way to provide connectivity to lower income residents. Riverside was considered uniquely positioned for public Wi-Fi given that it owns its own utilities, simplifying the process of installing equipment.
The network, however, has failed to blanket the city, and coverage areas have not met expectations for speed and reliability, according to local media. Chief Innovation Officer Lea Deesing explained to Government Technology via email that it's simply a matter of replacing outdated technology that has become too expensive to maintain.
"We believe the implementation of a higher speed, more reliable Wi-Fi system along the downtown mall and upgraded Wi-Fi availability at the city libraries and other public facilities is a viable alternative to providing citywide coverage," Deesing said, adding that many more local businesses, schools and universities now also provide free Wi-Fi for residents. Since the network was launched, many more low-cost broadband providers have entered the local market as well.
Decommissioning existing network equipment would save Riverside $800,000 annually, although costs to upgrade connectivity at city libraries and the downtown Riverside mall as outlined in the new plan are still unknown.
The City Council will consider the proposal to dismantle the current network at a future meeting -- the date has not yet been set.
Deesing is confident in Riverside's position on the forefront of innovation in municipal government, citing a recent second place award in the Center for Digital Government's Best of the Web awards program, honoring excellence in government websites.
"The city is always looking at new ways to engage citizens with innovation and technology; it places a high value on e-government services and high-tech initiatives," she said.