Big Players 'Extremely Interested' In Boston Wi-Fi

A report says Earthlink, Google, and HP are 'extremely interested' in partnering with Boston city officials to build a municipal Wi-Fi network.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

February 16, 2006

2 Min Read

Slow off the mark in developing any citywide Wi-Fi network, the City of Boston has received major boost in its Wi-Fi effort via a report from the non-profit Boston Foundation.

In its 40-page report, the Boston Foundation further said: "Respected technology companies like Earthlink, Google, and Hewlett-Packard are extremely interested in partnering with local government to come to Boston to build a low-cost or no-cost system capable of providing affordable and reliable service."

Pointing to Greater Boston as a longtime center of innovation, the Boston Foundation worked to eliminate doubts about the future of a citywide Wi-Fi network in the report, released Wednesday.

"The question is no longer whether Boston is going to build a citywide Wi-Fi network, but rather how and when," the report, released Wednesday, stated.

"To do otherwise would be to remove the city from the mainstream of an exploding new world of high-speed Internet communications, an option that is clearly not acceptable to Boston's political and community leaders."

Several Wi-Fi hotspots -- some covering whole neighborhoods -- have sprung up in Boston and Cambridge, its sister city across the Charles River. Cambridge is working to build a no-cost or low-cost citywide system with technology supplied by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Michael Oh, an entrepreneur who operates several hotspots in Boston, said he believed a wide spectrum of Boston interests would welcome major investments in Wi-Fi from the likes of Earthlink, Google, and Hewlett Packard.

Earthlink is building the infrastructure for citywide Wi-Fi for Philadephia, while Google has offered to build the infrastructure for San Francisco. To date, HP hasn't mounted any major efforts in Wi-Fi, but the firm has some operations in Massachusetts stemming from its acquisition of the Digital Equipment Corp.

"I think the Boston Foundation report is good in that it sets the stage (for Wi-Fi,)" said Oh, who is also a member of a City of Boston committee examining Wi-Fi. "We recognize there are different plans for different Wi-Fi models." He explained that he doesn't expect a business hotspot business model -- like his 10 access points -- would suffice for scaling across an entire city.

The Boston Foundation report emphasized the potential importance of a citywide wireless network for the city to maintain its position in the vanguard of technology innovation. While so much high technology development is carried on in California's Silicon Valley, much of the original research has traditionally been carried out in Greater Boston.

"The Greater Boston area can not afford to forfeit its respected position in technological innovation and development," the report stated. "By designing and constructing its own Wi-Fi network, city leaders can demonstrate that Boston is the educational and economic power that has regularly produced astonishing innovations for decades."

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