Minneapolis expands wireless network

McKenna Ewen

Minneapolis is growing with no strings – or wires – attached.

The city is moving forward with plans to create a citywide wireless system, with a program in the works to make the Internet affordable for low-income residents.

Minneapolis joined with US Internet in an unprecedented private-public partnership to help reduce city costs, since residents using the service

will foot the bill instead of the city. The wireless program will offer high-speed wireless Internet access anywhere in the city for a monthly fee of $20 per user.

The Seward neighborhood, located near the University’s West Bank, is already equipped with the wireless signal, and the University’s East Bank will have wireless access through the city by October. The project will be completed by November.

James Farstad, president of rClient, a technology consulting firm, and Wireless Minneapolis program manager, has worked nationwide with several cities to develop wireless systems.

“We want to make sure that there is a collaborative (technological) environment for students when they’re at school or at home in the city of Minneapolis,” he said.

“There are a lot of cities that are doing this Ö but they tend to be very small zones,” Farstad said. “The idea of doing an entire city is relatively new.”

The University played a significant role in the project with early testing and evaluation of the program.

Since the University is currently evaluating proposals for a wireless upgrade on campus, keeping close ties with the city allows the University to learn from the project, said John Miller, a director in the Office of Information Technology’s networking and telecommunications group.

While the University’s wireless signal is primarily designed for indoor use, the city’s signal allows for outdoor use as well, Miller said.

“It will help our own efforts when we are able to upgrade our campus wireless infrastructure,” he said.

Originally, the city proposed the idea of wireless Internet to help city systems run more efficiently, said Jeremy Hanson, spokesman for Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Hanson said it would specifically help with police, fire and animal control, although a large number of city workers are mobile and would benefit from the wireless broadband as well.

Steve Johnson, deputy chief of University Police, said the wireless connection would help the communication capabilities of the University police department.

Instead of communicating through radio or cell phone, preliminary meetings suggest the police department could stream a live video uplink, which would provide more eyes on crime scenes, Johnson said.

In addition to helping with police services, the city wanted to expand its wireless system to benefit Minneapolis residents and visitors, Hanson said.

Not only will the partnership with US Internet provide wireless Internet at a reduced price, but it will also include a digital inclusion program, which aims to increase Internet access for low-income residents.

In the next 10 years, city officials said US Internet will contribute roughly $11 million to the digital inclusion fund, which targets the digital divide.