SN: I think there was excellent buy-in. When we were able to justify the bulk of our initial outlay using the AMR connection, all we needed to do after that was explain the other uses. The City Council realized quickly that this was an opportunity to enhance service or reduce cost.


For example, we may be using a traditional radio signal for certain kinds of things that can be done at a lower cost and with better quality using the Wi-Fi network. As we look at replacing computers in police cars, we're looking at moving to Wi-Fi technology. As we look to improve our building inspection system, we've already piloted the remote input from inspectors. Those things represent investments that we would have made anyway. Now we can use the better and cheaper technology.


In my experience, some things were costing us more because the traditional radio carriers had commanded expensive maintenance agreements and requirements. A lot of the things we were doing that were radio-based were becoming very expensive because of that ongoing contract cost.


TT: So it was easy to see that this approach made sense?


SN: Yes. Plus, the City Council also saw the potential to get out in front of a technology that might position Corpus Christi differently in terms of the quality of life and the economic development benefits.


TT: That's become a big concern among communities of all sizes. Has this become something communities must do to stay competitive?


SN: Our impression is this is the way of the future. Whether it's Wi-Fi now, or WiMAX four years from now, or whatever rolls out after that. If you're not doing these wireless systems that enable folks to be unplugged, you're going to be behind the power curve.


You almost have to start viewing it as part of the basic infrastructure. You would not consider moving to a neighborhood that didn't have streets and water. We think this is the next element of infrastructure that will be necessary in every community.


TT: The wireless industry remains relatively immature, and it certainly was when you started doing this. What are some of the challenges created by that?


SN: There's no question there was an element of risk. We were comforted by the folks who were working with us on this project. The folks at Northrop Grumman continue to be really great partners in making sure we have a system that works.


We also spent a lot of time working with the folks at Intel as technology advisers to get insight into where the technology was going. They were quite helpful in telling us how long lasting the technology was going to be. They helped us understand how secure we could be in making this investment.


I think we accepted early on that doing a municipal service network, we could make the network we're building last for an extended period of time because we're controlling the end-user devices and the applications. So we started out from a position that had less risk.


One advantage of partnerships is that the commercial sector is going to be more interested in continuing to upgrade and move forward, and they can generate the revenue to support that. So you begin to share that risk. We knew all along that we could take care of ourselves for 10 years and be successful. If we want to be more bleeding edge than that, our partners can work with us to help generate the resources to do that.

Steve Towns  |  Executive Editor