July 21, 2006 12:01 AM PDT

AT&T, start-up team in citywide Wi-Fi bid

AT&T has submitted a proposal with Wi-Fi start-up MetroFi to build a citywide network in Riverside, Calif.

The companies submitted a proposal to build and operate the wireless broadband network on Friday. The proposed network would provide free Internet access throughout the city with download speeds of 500Kbps and upload speeds of 256Kbps. In exchange for free access, the company will include a persistent advertisement on every Web page. According to the proposal, MetroFi would build the entire Wi-Fi network and operate it throughout the 65 square miles of the city that will be blanketed with Wi-Fi.

In addition to the free service, AT&T has proposed offering a paid service to Riverside residents. If the MetroFi/AT&T proposal is accepted by the city, residents will be able to subscribe to a 1Mbps download broadband service for roughly $19.95 per month.

Cities across the country are turning to Wi-Fi, a wireless Internet access technology that uses unlicensed radio spectrum, as an affordable way to add another broadband alternative to their communities. Some cities, such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and San Francisco, are hoping to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor by allowing a third party to use the city's utility poles to deploy radios for transmitting wireless broadband signals throughout the city.

Regardless of the motivation, interest in citywide Wi-Fi has skyrocketed over the past year. Internet service provider EarthLink has emerged as one of the most prominent companies to build Wi-Fi networks in large cities. It has won bids in Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans. And in June it completed its first major citywide Wi-Fi network, in Anaheim, Calif.

When cities first started looking into building Wi-Fi, big telephone companies, such as AT&T and Verizon Communications, and cable operators, such as Comcast and Time Warner, lobbied against them. Specifically, they opposed cities owning and operating Wi-Fi networks, fearing they would unfairly control the market. But now that many cities are considering partnerships with private firms, the cable operators and phone companies are starting to enter the bidding process to build these networks.

AT&T has submitted proposals to build Wi-Fi networks in other cities, but so far has not won a contract.

By contrast startup MetroFi has already won bids to build citywide Wi-Fi networks in 12 cities, including Portland, Ore., Santa Clara, Calif. and Aurora, Ill. The company's founder and chief executive officer, Chuck Haas, said that partnering with a company that is the size of and has the brand recognition of AT&T should help it win more business in the long run.

"MetroFi is a 4-year-old start-up," Haas said. "We're a leader in designing and building Wi-Fi networks, but what we lack is brand recognition and the financial resources of a larger company like AT&T, which we could use to market the service. So really the partnership is very complimentary."

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2 comments

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Clarification
Hi Maggie: You wrote, "And in June it completed its first major citywide Wi-Fi network, in Anaheim, Calif" in regards EarthLink.

This is not correct. In June, we officially launched the network. The scheduled completion (build-out) is not slated until Q4/06.

Thanks,
Jerry Grasso
Corporate Communications
EarthLink, Inc. (www.earthlink.net)
Posted by Jerry Grasso (9 comments )
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More Wi-Fi, more problems
I have always been rather skeptical of this idea because if the connection were to go down for a few minutes, half the city will lose internet. No Wi-Fi connection is perfect so at some point in time it will cause problems for people.

Also, with so many people on one network, there are always potential security issues. No matter how secure this connection would be, people are still going to find a way to hack it and have access to half of the city. Before putting such an investment into this, they should check out remote laptop security for their residents to help protect them when this plan gets put into action.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.essentialsecurity.com/howitworks_laptop.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.essentialsecurity.com/howitworks_laptop.htm</a>
Posted by Nkully86 (59 comments )
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