Wi-Fi has arrived.
Technology today is as vital to economic growth as transportation and utilities systems were in the past. With every passing day, it seems, another local government announces - with much fanfare--plans to deploy a wireless network. In the last 12 months alone, over a dozen major U.S. cities have begun developing wireless network across the city that will enable citizens to access the Internet from their homes, businesses, shops, public institutions and parks.
Of course, a well-built wireless network can be an incredible asset to a city or community. There are many reasons to consider Wi-Fi networks. They can:
But the Wi-Fi waters are not without peril. Jumping into the Wi-Fi game blind to its challenges can squander financial and technology resources, as well as the public trust.
Before you launch your Wi-Fi campaign, be sure you have addressed the following issues:
1. Does wireless fit into your overall technology plan for your city or region?
(You do have one, right?)
A technology plan sets the vision, actions and implementation agenda for providing access to, and use of technology. Wi-Fi initiatives should not be setting the only agenda for how a city or region utilizes technology but instead reinforce broader objectives that are derived from a collaborative planning process.
2. What are the compelling public interests that citywide Wi-Fi would satisfy?
It is easy to just jump on the latest technology trend. Resist that temptation and make sure that you pursue clearly stated and sound policy goals. Who (and how many) will benefit from the public Wi-Fi network? What purposes will these users accomplish?
3. Is Wi-Fi the best way to address the diverse needs of your population?
Do you understand the technology needs of your diverse communities? A Wi-Fi network is only one piece of the growing number of tools and services that can improve workforce training, education, economic empowerment and community building. A balanced technology strategy should seek to ensure that any technology network or access point will be used by the full range of local residents and businesses.
4. Is the Wi-Fi network a part of your broader e-government strategy?
Is your city prepared to use Wi-Fi to extend its range of municipal service delivery? How will this new mode of access assist your internal communications functions? (Are your public safety, public works, transportation and other functions integrating Wi-Fi into their strategies for service delivery?)
5. Who will pay for city-wide WiFi?
Are you using public funds? Have you accurately estimated your costs, including maintenance, training, and insurance? Is your plan for financing the network sustainable, especially if you plan for "dial-tone" service, such as the telephone or 911 services? Is there a long-term plan for attracting paying customers to defray costs?
6. What are your neighbors doing?
Are your plans for wireless taking into account similar plans that neighboring jurisdictions might have? Do other public agencies plan to integrate wireless into their existing communications functions? For example, how will emergency responders integrate your Wi-Fi into their communications processes?
7. Is the private sector your partner or your competition?
As wireless networks increasingly come to replace cellular service, are you coordinating your deployment with private sector partners in wireless networking? What is the extent that your deployment puts you in competition with the private sector?
8. Have you given much thought to privacy, security, and liability?
Wireless communications are notoriously difficult to secure -- what happens if private information is "sniffed" as it travels across your wireless network?
What disclaimers will protect you against liability for information or identify theft by those using your Wi-Fi network?
9. Is Wi-Fi a sustainable technology?
Are you sure that this is the technology you want to invest in, or is this like laying copper in an era of fiber cable? Is your investment strategy based on a long-term and flexible plan that can adapt to changing technologies and applications? Does it enable additional services through already emerging technologies like WI-MAX or 3rd Generation (3G) networks?
10. Do you have an evaluation plan?
Will you be able to correct mistakes or oversights in your original plan? How will you know when you have adequately met original objectives? You will if you proactively collect data that helps you compare the implementation of the network and services with expected outcomes - especially economic outcomes. Benchmarking your progress will help you determine how to alter and strengthen the value of your investment in the future.
Wi-Fi networks offer an unprecedented opportunity to provide high-speed Internet access to your population. Setting up a Wi-Fi network appears affordable, when compared with building a city-wide fiber network.
But Wi-Fi is not free. Making prudent investment decisions means first asking the tough questions. Ultimately, the goal is to foster a vibrant, economically viable community by providing for its telecommunications needs. Wi-Fi may offer that opportunity. But, as with anything else, the key to success is proper planning.
By Charles Kaylor, Scott Page, Chris Steins and Wally Siembab
January 5, 2008
-- Graham and Marvin, 1996
A decade ago, strategic technology planning was a novelty for local governments. In most places, it still is. But increasingly, the viability of a community is linked to its access and use of information and communications technologies. Technology today is as vital to economic growth as transportation and utility systems were in the past.
Technology infrastructure and the transportation and economic development policies created to take advantage of it will determine a region's future. Communities that integrate technology into their strategies and plans will have a distinct edge over those that play catch-up.
Digital technologies enable a level of regional collaboration unequaled in the past. A simple initiative such as on-line permitting brought a closer relationship between the development community and local government while reducing the bottom line typically associated with this process. Neighborhoods plagued by poor access to technology resources can benefit from shared and coordinated services, providing resources previously unavailable and reducing the cost to organizations to provide these services. We believe that actively planning for the use of digital technologies can bring immense benefits to all communities including:
Strategic technology planning involves rethinking many well established policies and procedures developed before, or without regard to, the digital technology revolution.
Many cities are overwhelmed by the constantly changing array of technologies that can potentially strengthen their competitive position and improve public services. The Strategic Technology Collaborative can assist cities and regions:
The Strategic Technology Collaborative can undertake a specific Technology Plan or play a complementary role in existing planning studies and policies (completing a technology element for a Comprehensive Plan, for instance).
The Collaborative provides two primary services to help cities and regions actively participate in the global economy: Technology Assessments and Technology Plans
The Collaborative provides services to help cities and regions understand what their current technology needs are and how they compare to other cities adopting technology plans. A technology assessment might include several different aspects:
Strategic technology plans traditionally fall into one of two broad categories:
1. Strategies oriented toward promoting better services from cities, private and non-profit organizations such as broadband access, e-government and web-site applications, and;
2. Vision plans that promote technology as a means to enhance local economic development, transportation and planning objectives.
The Collaborative believes that each should reflect the other and brings a diversity of experience to undertake comprehensive technology plans which develops a vision and action steps targeting:
Do you know of a technology plan that should be included here? Let us know, and we'll credit you.