Portland’s long discussed “city cloud”, may be moving out of the talk stage and into the RFP stage.
Today the Portland City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to authorize Portland’s Bureau of Technology Services to seek a contractor to build and operate a privately funded broadband wireless network, reports The Oregonian. The project is estimated to cost $10 million to $25 million.
UPDATE: The Portland City Council unanimously approved, this morning, the issuance of an RFP for a city-wide wireless network.
Backers — including the city, the Portland School District, the Portland Development Commission and nonprofits — originally hoped to have the system online last year, but now say it could be up and running in 2006.
According to the Development Commission’s FAQ:
The Committee of the Unwire Portland initiative will propose that a private firm finance, deploy, operate and maintain the Network using private financing. This is attractive because it does not require use of taxpayer dollars and limits the City’s exposure to potential problems with technologies, equipment, or operations and maintenance.The City will potentially buy services on the Network, initially services it currently contracts for at reduced rates, and eventually new services that will help the City streamline its processes and reduce its costs. In this capacity, the City will assist the Network owner by providing a steady revenue stream to offset the risks associated with its initial capital investment while it looks for customers.
The City will also discuss access to publicly owned assets such as building rooftops, traffic signals, street lights and communication towers at reduced rates. The City may pay for services on the Network, or it may bargain for services in exchange for use of its assets. All of this is subject to negotiation with the selected Firm.
By 2006, the three major cell phone companies, Verizon, Sprint and Cingular will likely be offering their own high-speed wireless access (for $79/month or less), explains the Oregonian article.
“If we could afford the high-speed services that are available on the cell networks, then it might make sense to just go with that,” said Marshall Runkel, an aide to Commissioner Erik Sten. “But we’re thinking we could get a better deal.”
Instead of using tax dollars, the city’s plan calls for contracting with a private company that would build, own and pay for the wireless network. In exchange, Portland would offer free access to city property where the company could put its antennas.
Portland would also agree to be an “anchor tenant” for the network, paying to use the new wireless system to collect data from parking meters or connect to remote city offices. Backers estimate that building the network could cost up to $25 million and say that having the city as a big customer would provide the owner with some assurance the network will be profitable.
|RFP issue date
|Written Proposals Due
|Interviews with Finalists
|Selection Committee Recommendation
|Contract Negotiation with Selected Consultant
|Notice to Proceed – Work Begins
Dan Greenfield, an EarthLink spokesman, told The Oregonian that a city-sponsored wireless systems like Portland’s might be an increasingly important alternative to cable and DSL for his company. “We are looking to explore municipal broadband as a third way into the home as a way to extend our broadband reach,” he said.
Nigel Ballard (above), Director of Wireless for Matrix Networks, wrote DailyWireless with more details:
In late August, the City of Portland will issue the ‘Unwire Portland’ RFP.The aim of the RFP is to stimulate the business sector into creating innovative business models surrounding the deployment of a City-Wide Wi-Fi network. This network will in turn provide Internet access for Portland businesses and residents, as well as providing cost-saving access solutions to City and State agencies.
In a proactive move to enhance Portland’s desirability as a place to both live and work, the City will invite tenders from all interested parties to build and manage a commercial wireless network based upon the popular global standard known as Wi-Fi.
“We have defined a downtown grid that will be our phase one Wi-Fi hot spot” said Nigel Ballard, a member of the Wireless Committee and their media representative. “Anyone within the grid will be able to use the wireless network to access non-profit public service web sites such as Tri-Met, Portland hospitals, Oregon Food Bank and many others for free; users desiring to surf the Internet at high-speed can subscribe to a paid service either on a day pass or by monthly subscription” said Ballard.
As an example, at present the City of Portland’s SmartMeter solar powered parking meters use costly mobile phone technology to update each meter’s memory. Retrofitting these meters with Wi-Fi radios alone would save the City thousands of dollars each year.
Many remote City buildings are currently being served by slow and costly Internet circuits. The Unwire Portland RFP lays out an additional requirement for a widespread wireless network using the new but already widely supported standard called WiMAX. City-owned antenna tower space will be made available to allow the network operator to provide high-speed secure Internet access across much of Portland using this exciting new radio standard.
“With laptops now outselling desktop PC’s, personal computing has become truly mobile, and adding affordable nomadic Internet access is a natural next step. Today it is hard to buy a new laptop that doesn’t already come equipped with Wi-Fi. Those users inside the grid will discover their laptops have become even more useful” said Ballard.
And it isn’t just about those lucky enough to own a laptop. An external Wi-Fi adapter for a desktop computer can be purchased for under $30 today, and that one-time expense would enable all low-income users with even the most basic of computers to access vital health and welfare services on the network at no charge.
The Portland School system are actively involved in the RFP, seeking to use the WiMAX network as a method of bringing affordable broadband to all schools in the district.
We are specifically focused on empowering each and every child in Portland with Internet access at home. There is a very real digital divide out there, and enabling no-cost access to schools and colleges through the network is a very real step towards bridging that divide.
The repaving of city streets causes annoying delays for motorists but could mean the difference between success and failure for a Fire truck responding to a 911 call. Portland Fire Service intends to use the Wi-Fi network to load time-critical GIS mapping data and scheduled road maintenance and closures directly to emergency vehicles.
“The Unwire Portland initiative will also provide fresh and much needed competition for the Portland internet access market. With competing services will come ever keener prices for consumers,” said Ballard.
The City of Portland RFP is seeking to recruit private companies to bid, build and manage the network, using no public funds.
A public forum will be held on July 28th to allow input from the public and to permit interested parties to hear an overview of Unwire Portland. The location of the public forum has yet to be confirmed.
Additional information can be obtained via the Portland Development Committee web site (www.pdc.us/unwire)
Director of Wireless
Muni Wireless expresses some skepticism on Portland’s model
My skepticism over this model arises from the experiences that cities have had with the cable franchise model, that is, having ONE service provider deliver access to the city. What happens if the provider does not deliver good service?What happens if another service provider has a better offering? Are the city’s residents stuck with this winning bidder? I realize that another service provider can always come in and deploy wireless service – the spectrum is unlicensed after all. However, it’s difficult because that second service provider has to negotiate with building landlords.
There is a barrier to entry. I assume that the city will hold the winning bidder to a certain level of service, but getting out of the contract could mean long and expensive litigation. In the meantime, the city is stuck with oprovider.
By contrast, if the city builds a passive network whereby access is wholesaled to a variety of providers, there is choice. If one provider delivers lousy service, the residents can always move to a competitor.
But Nigel Ballard says MuniWireless has it wrong:
That is NOT our proposed model, Sam.We propose a single vendor builds and manages the network, then as it is an open access network, we intend that they let as many ISP’s as is viable to share the network.
There is the option for the builder to also be the ISP, but they’d have to most likely be a partnership of two experts in their respective fields to achieve this.
– Cheers, Nigel
DailyWireless editor Sam Churchill asked Matt Lampe, Chief Technology Officer for the City of Portland, to contrast the Portland proposal with other cities like Philadelphia. “Philadelphia has a different situation in their city, a bigger chunk of Philly is without broadband. Their non-profit corporation relies more on foundation grants to provide service,” explained Lampe. He said the Minneapolis WiFi Cloud was a closer model to the Portland proposal. It has drawn letters of intent from more than 20 companies.
In his presentation before the City Council, Lampe also mentioned the city’s fancy electronic parking meters. Apparently the CDPD-based Mobitex system costs the city something like $36/month. When a debit/credit card is not present, additional fees are charged. (The meters store and forward credit card accounts once or twice a day). A live WiFi connection (or perhaps a GPRS connection), might save money by lowering both the transaction fees and telecommunications costs. The city of Houston is considering a similar approach.
When asked if it was “safe”, Nigel Ballard, a member of the steering committee said, “Absolutely”. “It’s very easy to secure the connection with 100% security”. He said that free service would be available to hospitals, food banks and several other community service providers.
In addition, Ballard said a “walled garden” would be available free to everyone, “24/7”. That service would provide free connections to the library, city hall, educational institutions and visitor bureau information over the public network.
Intel’s Paul Butcher presented Intel’s “Digital Cities” vision to the council. Last month Butcher also addressed the NYC Commission for unwiring The City (doc):
Access to broadband in of itself, will not accomplish the real change pursued by this committee. More email and more web browsing is not what this world needs. If this commission focuses solely on providing access, free access or more affordable access, the promise and the potential of your work will not be realized. Real change; which benefits everyone, will only occur if there is an emphasis on tools that enable efficient and effective government, tools that enable citizens, foster business and economic health. Focus on tools for the fireman or police officer which ensures their safety. Enable parents to collaborate easily and from anywhere with teachers to ensure the success of their children. Monitor and control devices like parking and utility meters.
It would be too simplistic to recommend for example that New York should consider a two tiered network with WiMax providing backhaul to WiFi-Mesh devices mounted on light poles for street level access to Intel Centrino Laptops.
A thorough analysis which first identifies the purpose and tools which utilize the network, and then the technology capabilities required to meet those needs, will adequately answer the question of which technologies should be considered.
Steven Schroedl, President and founder of VeriLAN, a local wireless ISP, offered a public comment after the presentation. He mentioned that his company is already offering free 56kbps and installed the first “pre-WiMax” service in the United States (in December 2003).
The most wonderful News 4 Neighbors has more in-depth coverage on today’s meeting.
Perhaps not far from people’s minds, was the great work of the PersonalTelco Project. Their volunteers have helped installed nearly 700 free nodes around the Portland region.
Meanwhile, Clearwire, based in Kirkland, Wash., officially launched its “pre-WiMax” service today in the Eugene-Springfield area [See DailyWireless: Clearwire: West Coast Ho!]. The company expects to be in 20 markets by the end of the year. It is offering an introductory price of $20 a month for three months. After three months, residential plans will range from $30 to $38 a month with a $25 activation fee. A business package is $50 a month with a $50 activation fee.
DailyWireless has more on Portland’s Free Cloud, Cable vs Digital Cities: Championship Fight, City Clouds Save Money, Portland Cloud Updater, Portland Wireless Cloud Announced, NYC Public WiFi, Minneapolis WiFi Cloud, NW Wireless Conference, Vivato Adds Outdoor G, VeriLAN Tests Prototype Outdoor Vivato, Free Content on VeriLAN’s City Cloud, First Commercial 802.16a Switched On and Living Under A Cloud, by Nigel Ballard, Philly’s Fight, Verizon Blocking Philly Cloud?, the Philadelphia Cloud, Low Income Housing Connection, Digital Divide Solutions, SBC Fiber Plans, Taipei Unwired, Unwired Countries, and the DailyWireless City Cloud Report
Other U.S. cities that are building city-wide clouds include Athens, GA, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Boston, Bellevue & Kirkland, Cerritos, Charleston, South Carolina, Durham/Raleigh, North Carolina, FreeBeeAtlanta, OneCleveland, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Datona Beach, Hermosa Beach, Indianapolis, Louisville, Long Beach, Kennewick, WA, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, Washington, Hermiston, OR, Medford, OR, Louisville Kentucky, Washington DC and others. WiFi Planet’s Hotspot Hits keeps tabs.
Related DailyWireless stories on “zones” include; WiMax On The Move, Sprint + Nextel = Cable?, Will 802.20 Challenge WiMax?, WiFi Vrs WiMax, Unlicensed Spectrum: The Sum of All Fears, FCC Opens 3.5 GHz Band, Decision in Nextel’s Court, National Wireless ISPs, Intel Inside Clearwire, ClearWire Launches Pre-WiMax, Wireless Cable Modem, Telephony’s Guide to WiMax, Realistic WiMax Range/Speed Projections?, FCC: Nextel Gets PCS Spectrum, 4G Goes Ballistic, IEEE Scores 802.16d, Sprint Plans National EV-DO Service, FCC Alters MMDS Band, Equal Access: Not, National 802.16 from McCaw, Spectrum Cowboys, TV Broadband, Mobile TV Spectrum and NextNet Deploys. WiMax Switcharoo and Cingular Buys AT&T for $41 Billion.