Citywide Wi-Fi service months away


Minneapolis and USI Wireless are close to completing the largest municipal Wi-Fi area in the country.

Representatives from the wireless company and the city told Prospect Park residents that they will have service by the end of March.

The neighborhood, along with other areas around the University of Minnesota, is one of the city’s challenging areas, needing more poles installed that will hold the radios that will complete the network.

Last March, The Minnesota Daily reported the project would be complete by April 2008. Residents at the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association meeting in January expressed doubts about the city’s new timetable for completing the network.

Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon said there were problems with the service in some of the other Ward 2 neighborhoods that were already connected to the network. He said those problems should be fixed by the time Prospect Park gets service.

USI wireless currently has 11,000 paid subscribers to the network that offers one, three and six megabyte packages.

USI’s customer service director, Sam Turner, estimated that 2,000 of those subscribers have University e-mail addresses.

University student and Prospect Park resident Karan Jindal said he is satisfied with the service he currently gets from Comcast, but said that he probably pays too much money.

For a one year, six megabyte package, Turner said USI would cost $397 while the same service from Comcast would cost $851, saving the customer more than 50 percent.

Jindal said that if the service was cheaper, it would be a good option.

There will also be a public safety network that the city’s police and fire departments will use. Lynn Willenbring, chief information officer for the city , said this will provide them with greater bandwidth and quicker connection speeds.

“It makes them more efficient and more effective and ultimately it saves on gas and travel time,” she said.

Willenbring said there was Wi-Fi up in the area of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse and it helped a great deal.

She said the city learned from Philadelphia, which was the first city to do this on such a large scale. She said Philadelphia’s model crashed because the city provided the Wi-Fi for free to everyone. Minneapolis will be the main tenant, but won’t own or operate the network.

Willenbring said the network will be available to the whole city a couple months after it is up and running in Prospect Park.

She said there is some work still to be done in Marcy Holmes, but that Southeast Como should be a part of the network.

Rebecca Biehn, the project manager for USI Wireless, said the signal strength can depend on the type of house. She said stucco houses usually get the worst signal.