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.


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Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor