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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wi-Fi City

posted by on June 28 at 16:55 PM

(Updated below.)

The City of Seattle is providing free wireless Internet access in the Columbia City and the University District business districts. The City’s Wi-Fi pilot project also includes four downtown Seattle parks: Occidental, Freeway, Westlake and Victor Steinbrueck, as well as the City Hall lobby area. This is a pilot project. Users can log-in using seattlewifi for the ssid. (More info.)

When will the entire central city be covered by a free network? My money’s on the tail end of 2008.

UPDATE: Glenn Fleishman, a local writer who covers Wi-Fi at, as well as writing about it and other tech issues for the New York Times, the Economist, and Popular Science, says I shouldn’t hold my breath:

There was a brief halcyon time when cities with lots of urban poor and lower middle-class residents put out “bids” for city-wide Wi-Fi that read like this: “Come and build our networks on your own dime. We’ll give you utility pole access (if we can). We’ll anoint you. We might even move some city telecom business over to you (no guarantees, bud). But you have to pay in a bunch of money for digital divide initiatives and meet really imposing service guarantees.”

And EarthLink, MetroFi, Kite, and a few others—including giants IBM and Cisco—did pour forth the money. Now, about two years in, no major city network is complete, although several are well underway (Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia, notably). The companies building these networks are all guarded about their next moves; EarthLink’s new CEO (the previous one died in January from cancer) may choose to not build new networks. And there’s just not a lot of interest in building networks without much more of a commitment from cities to buy services.

In a city like Philadelphia or even San Francisco, it turns out that there’s relatively poor and uneven broadband penetration with cable and DSL, and not enough competition to spur low enough rates to move people from dial-up to broadband or no access to broadband.

Seattle is pretty well situated, and we have a much more middle to upper class set of residents in the city proper.

The city’s fiber-optic proposal that they put out last year to a bunch of bidders included an option to build out a Wi-Fi network. None of the responses seemed to have included this.

RSS icon Comments


but, what about security?

Posted by monkey | June 28, 2007 12:24 PM

It's charming, I'm sure, but I'm less than two blocks from where they have the sign about it on the Ave (totally in the business district), and I pick up nothing. I want some more dedication from these people on giving me free stuff.

Posted by Lythea | June 28, 2007 12:28 PM

And what about us poor people in Fremont?

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 28, 2007 1:05 PM

The U District wi-fi is pretty shitty and barely works, no matter how close you are to the Ave.

Posted by Gomez | June 28, 2007 1:08 PM

My money is on these kinds of services expanding a lot over the next couple of years, but continuing to suck ass for long after that. It'll be a long, long time before there is city-wide access that is anywhere near reliable enough to replace your home service, except for a lucky few.

Posted by Anthony Hecht | June 28, 2007 1:29 PM

It'll never cover the entire city. Big Telcos and Cable providers will make sure of that. They don't take kindly to government moving in on their customer base by giving something away for free (or even charging less and calling it a utility).

Besides, as people above have said, the city's service blows. It's been around for a couple of years at least and I have never heard one good thing about it.

Posted by Charlie | June 28, 2007 1:48 PM

But wasn't Council's mega-techie Jean Godden crowing a little while ago about how the city was going to be in the forefront of (wired, she said) broadband access?

Admittedly, we who heard this at the 43rd District Democrats meeting last year were remiss in failing to follow up by asking her where all those ethernet ports were going to be placed.

Posted by N in Seattle | June 28, 2007 1:53 PM

Like most old people, Jean Godden doesn't really understand how technology works. So they put up a shitty wi-fi system in a few neighborhoods and she thinks that's good enough.

Posted by Gomez | June 28, 2007 1:57 PM

Big telcos don't have any say in it. Who gives a shit what they think? What's going to happen is really terrible service, and a gigantic bureaucracy that will actually end up costing MORE per person than buying it would. I'll bet there's fifty people in the department already.

Posted by Fnarf | June 28, 2007 2:15 PM

All I know is we gotta stuff s'more intertoobs into them internets and drive in there like a big diesel delivering the load. AMEN!

Posted by wbrproductions | June 28, 2007 3:33 PM

I want fiber in Seattle. But I'm not holding my breath, considering Qwest's lackluster enthusiasm for investing in their network.

Posted by Tiffany | June 28, 2007 5:15 PM

There are millions of miles of fiber in Seattle, most of it dark and moldering and obsolete.

Posted by Fnarf | June 28, 2007 5:23 PM

"millions of miles" is kind of a stretch. But yeah there is dark fiber in Seattle. The problem is that it's pretty much all downtown. Getting fiber to the premises will be a much larger project.

Posted by Tiffany | June 28, 2007 5:47 PM

You might want to check with this website.

I met one of the guys from this organization about 4 years agowhile working as an Apple Rep. I don't know what they've been upto, but from what I heard they are planning to do this in many other cities as well. Who knows if it will ever happen.

Posted by this has been around for awhile | June 28, 2007 6:13 PM

San Franisco made a decicsion to do it city-wide a few years back, but the details are still being worked out. I can't even get a wireless signal from my living room hub to my bedroom, so who knows how service will be.

Depending on how well it's implemented, security concerns might have me go with a low-cost DSL even if wi-fi access were free.

Posted by Dougsf | June 28, 2007 7:02 PM

I'm right there at 45th and the Ave, and there is absolutely no seattlewifi signal. Oh, wait there it is. Nope, gone. Still gone. Oh, there! Nope, gone. Yeah, nothing. Got a fairly decent one from the Trabant Chai Shop, though.

Posted by levide | June 28, 2007 9:09 PM

Yeah...I'm close enough in I can always get a good signal from somewhere or other, I certainly don't need to pay for access. But I love the thought of not having to steal....pretty pie in the sky ideas I've got.....

Posted by Lythea | June 28, 2007 11:53 PM
Posted by josh | June 29, 2007 8:44 AM

who the hell would go to Freeway Park with their laptop and surf the web? Have you seen that place?!

Posted by Scottie | June 29, 2007 1:27 PM

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