Boston's Chief Information Officer Bill Oates joined openairboston.net CEO Pam Reeve at a 'wire-cutting' ceremony Monday in celebration of the city's first wireless pilot network in Roxbury and Dorchester's Grove Hall and Dudley Square neighborhoods. The ceremony marked a major step forward in Boston's wireless initiative, which in now delivering high-speed service to one of Boston's most underserved neighborhoods.
Since its soft-launch in late August, openairboston.net estimates that the network has already had over 3,000 unique users, with average session length of 79 minutes per user. The network now makes it possible for approximately 8,000 households within the pilot area access to the Internet for as little as $9.95 a month.
"Today, we are celebrating a significant milestone in bringing the power of the Internet to a community which may not have enjoyed access in the past," said Mayor Menino. "We are thrilled to deliver on this commitment at no cost to the taxpayers, and we hope folks will take advantage of low-cost Internet access that is now available to them."
Originally announced in October of 2006, the pilot has been overseen by former telecommunications executive, Pam Reeve, as CEO of openairboston.net, who has worked in collaboration with a team of city officials. Although the build-out was complete at the end of last summer, Menino said the city waited until now to announce the network to ensure signal strength and reliability for many users. The wireless pilot network is made up of 64 wireless radios installed atop buildings, light poles, and traffic signals, creating what is known as a wireless mesh network.
The pilot, which covers approximately a single square-mile of Boston, was enabled by hundreds of thousands of dollars of in-kind donations and equipment from four major contributing technology partners. Galaxy Internet Services is the Internet Service Provider (ISP), BelAir Networks provided the pilot's radios, metroNEXT provided the backhaul for the network, and AboveNet provided the wireless network's connection to the World Wide Web.
"Galaxy Internet Services is glad to participate in this WiFi launch. Even while testing the network in this relatively small neighborhood, we have already logged thousands of unique users," said Sandy Bendremer and Bob Carp of Galaxy Internet Services. "We are very encouraged about the potential for WiFi access for every corner of Boston."
Bernard Herscovich, President and CEO of BelAir Networks, added, "We are proud to support this innovative project that is bringing next generation wireless broadband to the city of Boston. BelAir Networks delivers the industry's highest performance and most reliable mobile broadband mesh networks to leading cities worldwide and we are pleased to join with openairboston.net in this important effort."
"MetroNEXT and its partners have delivered fiber-speed network capacity to Boston's first pilot network that not only supports Internet access -- but also enables many new business and consumer services," said Tom Wetmore, CEO and founder of metroNEXT. "The possibilities include voice over Internet phone calls, security & environmental monitoring, video, and distance learning -- all without the huge expense of laying fiber-optic cable."
In addition, Reeve said, the pilot would not have been possible without the monetary donations of the Boston Foundation and Partners Healthcare, and pointed out that several community organizations have worked closely with openairboston.net to develop marketing strategies for the pilot's unveiling.
"This initiative has benefited from the collaboration of some of Boston's brightest technology and business minds, wireless technology partners, and many other contributors -- all of whom have shown incredible commitment to the project," said Reeve. "The pilot has taken us longer than anyone would have hoped. But we've learned every step of the way, and I believe Boston's Wireless Initiative is now in an even better position to succeed given all this project has taught us."
Today's announcement marks a major achievement for Boston's Wireless Initiative,
which comes at a time when many other cities across the country have abandoned their plans for municipal wireless entirely. The initiative was first launched in response to recommendations made by the Mayor's Wireless Task Force to build a low-cost network designed to offer inexpensive access to broadband, which then ISPs could utilize to deliver service to residents. Menino asked Reeve to carry the initiative forward as interim CEO; 8 months later she filed incorporation papers for the non-profit, openairboston.net.
Since then, Menino said, the non-profit has begun designing the organization's framework, executed contracts with the city and outside vendors, and completed work on the Grove Hall and Dudley Square pilot. Reeve said she now estimates the cost of a city-wide build-out to be significantly less than the $16-20 million originally cited in the Task Force report; estimates are now somewhere around $10-$12 million. openairboston.net is currently working with the city to identify neighborhoods for additional pilot networks.