Christopher Jones envisions a day when Grand Haven, Mich., offers its residents wireless Internet access as a municipal service, just like electricity and water.
The lakeside city, with a population of 12,000, certainly has a lead on most metropolitan areas. Last July, Grand Haven became the first city in the nation to offer citywide Wi-Fi broadband networking, with coverage that spreads six square miles, plus 15 miles of Lake Michigan—a perk for the city’s 2 million tourists, many of whom arrive by boat.
Today, the network serves more than 300 subscribers. They pay $20 per month for the service, about the same price as for dial-up service, Jones notes.
The city itself saves almost $2,000 monthly by using its wireless virtual private network, which connects six city government buildings, rather than T-1 lines offered by the phone company.
“We’re not the biggest [city to offer Wi-Fi networking],” says Jones, the city’s highest ranking technology staffer. “Obviously, there are some hotspots [in major metropolitan areas] that are probably bigger than our whole city. But they don’t have citywide coverage where you can go from home to the coffee shop—even out on the lake—and never lose a connection.”
Grand Haven’s number-one technology distinction came serendipitously. In 2003, a hometown resident, Tyler van Houwelingen, who is CEO of Ottawa Wireless, offered to set up the citywide wireless network for free if he could use public buildings and poles to house radio transmitters. “His initial goal was for the city to purchase [the network] after he showed us that it worked,” Jones explains. “We would own the infrastructure and all the equipment, and he would manage it for the city.”
By July 2004, the network had blanketed the entire city, and Ottawa Wireless had recruited 30 subscribers, including Grand Haven Mayor Roger Bergman.
At a cost of $1 million and rising as new subscribers sign up, the network hadn’t been purchased by Grand Haven as of November 2004. However, the city has first-refusal rights on the network’s sale to any outside suitors.
“We have a multitude of uses for it, whether we buy it or not,” Jones says, citing wireless meter reading for electricity and water. But citizens could realize substantial savings if the city or its municipally owned electric company buys the network and continues to provide low-cost wireless Internet access.
That could be just the beginning, says Jones, who mentions the possibility of providing cable TV or phone service over the network. When asked about the limits of Wi-Fi, he responds, “Depending on the technology that’s created, there really aren’t any.”
Reports show that government workers are more satisfied with their paychecks than private sector workers and state tax revenue collection is slipping. The Reader Spotlight highlights Grand Haven, Mich., the first city in the nation to offer citywide Wi-Fi broadband networking.
Slipping State Revenues
SINCE 2001, TOTAL STATE REVENUES have dipped significantly. From a peak of almost $560 billion in 2001, total state revenues dropped to roughly $535 billion in 2002 and were slightly less than $547 billion in 2003.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
THE PUBLIC SECTOR LAGS BEHIND the private sector in some areas, but salary satisfaction isn’t one of them. A survey sent to 3,000 government workers at local, state and federal levels between 2001 and 2003 reveals that, compared to their counterparts in the private sector, a higher percentage of government employees are happy with their paychecks.
Source: Sirota Consulting, September 2004
of government executives are happy with their paychecks.