City government workers trade strategies for municipal Wi-Fi

Despite the tribulations of launching a regional wireless Internet network, some cities are making progress by sharing their hard-won lessons.

Ubiquitous wireless coverage could also improve residents’ lives by offering automated traffic monitoring, parking enforcement and meter reading, according to government technology workers who gathered at the MuniWireless 2007 conference in Newton, Mass., earlier this month.

But sometimes even those goals fail to sustain public support when a network hits surprise hurdles, said Bill Oates, chief information officer for Boston. The city had been running its new Wi-Fi network for a month in the blocks surrounding city hall when citizens began to complain that the Internet service provider used a content filter that blocked certain Web sites.

Cities also face a challenge when the local historical society complains that wireless antennae can harm the architectural appearance of city buildings. City workers in Malden, Mass., worked around that problem by fitting a Wi-Fi antenna inside the storefront of a local bar. The bar owner was happy to donate the location in exchange for a strong signal, and the new node boosted coverage, said Anthony Rodrigues, director of information technology, illustrating that the politics of launching a wireless network can be a tougher challenge than the technology.

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