Municipal Broadband Efforts Succeed Despite Wi-Fi Meltdown/Illustration by Tom McKeith Municipal Broadband Efforts Succeed Despite Wi-Fi Meltdown 1 Illustration by Tom McKeith

municipal-broadband network in 2006. Chase said the broadband access empowered tobacco farmers to do Internet research that taught them ways to diversify their businesses. This prompted 12 tobacco farmers to enter the prawn farming business.

"We have a new yam processing facility that's state of the art because they were able to do Internet research that showed all the different things with a yam they could still use -- peelings and everything," Chase said.

A company that imprints tennis balls called Smart Play USA set up shop in Greene County. There's more. "We've got Accu Plan Industrial Drafting Services. They do blueprints for industry, as far as safety plans. We've got a new retail store called Sticks and More. They have a Web site, so they will start selling online," Chase said. Many at-home eBay businesses also sprouted.

Ninety-four percent of Greene County's graduating high-school seniors were accepted to college in 2008, according to Chase. Five years ago, only 24 percent of them were, she said. Chase attributes the improvement mostly to the county's broadband initiative.

"Some of them are going off to college, and they plan to come back here. Now they feel like we have given them things to come back to," Chase said.

 

Tried-and-True Route

One of the most effective drivers for municipal broadband is electronic meter reading. These days, most state and local government IT observers are familiar with the strategy. A government deploys the network and recovers its investment with the cost savings of electronically reading water and gas meters. Normally employees manually check the meters. Corpus Christi, Texas, invested $7.1 million in a Wi-Fi network for electronic meter reading in 2002. EarthLink later purchased the network from the city for $5.2 million, hoping to sell Internet service subscriptions to residences and businesses. The company paid Corpus Christi $3.5 million with $1.7 million to come later. When EarthLink abandoned municipal Wi-Fi, it gave the network back to Corpus Christi in exchange for escaping the remaining $1.7 million bill. In addition, the deal included $800,000 worth of Tropos Wi-Fi transmitters and $1.7 million in enhancements EarthLink made after buying the network.

"It was actually a pretty sweet deal," said John Sendejar, general manager of ConnectCC, the city's Wi-Fi program.

Corpus Christi is in the fourth year of its seven-year electronic meter reading rollout. The network should pay for itself in roughly 12 years, reported Sendejar.

As is common for these networks, Corpus Christi will use the technology to power mobile applications for government field workers, thereby tightening efficiency. Typically field workers went back to the office at the end of the day to enter data manually to a government server. Animal control officers and restaurant and fire inspection workers use the network for that purpose in Corpus Christi. Building inspectors will soon join that group, said Sendejar.

Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor