Still Tethered, Boston Schedules Wi-Fi Summit - InformationWeek

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Still Tethered, Boston Schedules Wi-Fi Summit

Boston is finally taking a long, hard look at bringing the wireless service across the city, and has scheduled a Wi-Fi Summit for May 19.

Conspicuous by its lack of a comprehensive approach to public Wi-Fi, Boston is taking a long and hard look at bringing the wireless service across the city. A Wi-Fi Summit involving cross sections of the city's residents and institutions is scheduled for May 19.

"I'm glad we didn't do it (Wi-Fi) earlier," said Boston City Councilor John Tobin, who has been spearheading the Wi-Fi drive. "We wanted to slow it down a bit, so we could do it right."

Tobin noted that the City of Boston, the Boston Foundation, and the Museum of Science are also participating in organizing the summit, which is expected to draw representatives from the academic, business, technology, and public sectors. Tobin said the Boston effort, while behind other municipalities, has the advantage of learning from cities like Philadelphia that are rolling out city-wide wireless Wi-Fi networks.

A driving force behind the Wi-Fi drive is Michael Oh, founder of a Wi-Fi advocacy group called Boston WAG.org. As the founder and president of Tech Superpowers, Oh was instrumental in bringing Wi-Fi to businesses along the city's swank shopping area on Newbury Street.

"We know that Boston is behind other cities," said Oh. "Wi-Fi is really a jumbled mess in Boston. We don't want to control it, but we want to measure it at the summit." He noted that security issues will be important, particularly because 802.11b is likely to be the mainstay of any comprehensive Wi-Fi rollout across the city. He added that WiMAX, with its wide-area reach is a potentially promising technology, but it is probably too far out in the future to figure in current Wi-Fi implementation efforts.

"The summit is about including everybody," Oh said.

Although the City of Boston hasn't officially weighed in on the issue, the fact that Mayor Thomas Menino is scheduled to speak at the summit is an indication the city may back Wi-Fi deployment.

The summit will also hear from BTS Partners, which has been conducting an analysis and survey of wireless technology in Boston under the auspices of a $25,000 grant from the Boston Foundation. The Museum of Science will take a proactive role in examining the implementation of Wi-Fi in the city.

Tobin was asked if there were any roadblocks to Wi-Fi deployment in Boston. He said he expected to hear questions from telephone service provider Verizon Communications and cable broadband supplier Comcast. Telephone and cable suppliers haven't favored the Wi-Fi rollout in Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania has approved legislation that will hinder the rollout of public Wi-Fi services elsewhere in the state. Verizon and Comcast have been invited to attend the Boston summit.

Tobin indicated that a major focus of the meeting will be to bring Wi-Fi to poorer neighborhoods in the city. "This is the communications device of our generation," he said, adding that it's important that it be available to everyone.

"In my four years on the City Council, this issue stands out," he said. "It brings all kinds of people together."

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