May 18, 2007 By Steve Towns
In December 2006, Corpus Christi officially unveiled a citywide wireless network stretching nearly 150 square miles. The Wi-Fi network - which Corpus Christi Mayor Henry Garrett called the "single largest municipal-scale wireless network anywhere in the world" - currently offers free Internet access for residents and supports a growing number of city services.
The project traces its roots to a 2003 decision by the city to implement automated meter reading (AMR) technology. But thanks to forward-thinking choices by city leaders, Corpus Christi ended up with much more than a stand-alone AMR system. The city determined that emerging Wi-Fi technology was the most cost-effective way to transport utility meter data between remote locations and city facilities.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. City officials quickly found other uses for the wireless network that strengthened city operations and improved quality of life for Corpus Christi residents. And these efforts drew national and international attention.
In November, the Center for Digital Government recognized Corpus Christi as one of the nation's most technologically advanced cities for 2006, based on the Center's annual Digital Cities Survey. It was the second year in a row that Corpus Christi had captured the title.
Furthermore, the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum named Corpus Christi one of its "Smart21 Communities of the Year" for 2006. The award recognizes 21 communities in 12 nations for their vision in using broadband communications for the benefit of the community. Other honorees included Ashland, Ore.; Gangnam-gu, South Korea; Hong Kong; Ichikawa, Japan; Issy les Moulineaux, France; JiaDing, China; Ontario, Canada; and San Francisco.
City Manager George "Skip" Noe has been a driving force behind the Wi-Fi project since its inception. He recently spoke with Texas Technology about the project's origin and evolution.
Texas Technology: You started with a very specific project: automated meter reading. Three years later, Corpus Christi is a leader in the use of community Wi-Fi. Was that the vision all along?
Skip Noe: We had decided that it was time for us to look at the feasibility of AMR. That wasn't exactly bleeding-edge technology. We had enough incidents and problems with the quality of the meter reading that we really need to look at the automated approach.
So we hired RAM Technologies and Public Technology Inc. to work with us on a proposal and walk us through the technology. When we got to the point of talking about how to transmit the data from the collectors in the field to City Hall, we looked at all the traditional methods for doing that, and Wi-Fi came out to be the most cost-effective way.
As an organization, we've recognized that technology is an opportunity to be better at what we're doing. We've had a number of challenges. There were moves to privatize our utilities. Technology's obviously important if it can fundamentally change how you do business in a way that improves productivity or reduces cost.
One of the things that came out of our AMR project and Wi-Fi was that we re-engineered our utilities to where they're all on a single computerized work management software - in fact, the entire city is on it. That's been integrated with our GIS, so one of the things we talked about when we did the re-engineering was the potential to create mobile crews that could actually enter their data, receive maps and information, and order parts - all remotely using wireless technology. That obviously fit right in with what we were doing on Wi-Fi.
We decided we were going to coordinate our technology in ways so we weren't duplicating efforts between departments. So we took a very strategic and coordinated approach to
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