Minneapolis spending $1 million to get Wi-Fi finished

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 25, 2008 - 5:15 AM

Repairing the dead spots in the Minneapolis Wi-Fi network will require the city to spend $1 million to buy, install and wire new light poles.

It was the first time the city had clarified the cost of solving a previously disclosed coverage problem caused by 145 decorative city light poles that aren't strong enough to support the wireless Internet network's radios. The pole-top radios provide customers with a wireless way to link their computers to the city Wi-Fi network.

The city and network builder US Internet of Minnetonka disclosed some time ago that the decorative light poles -- found largely in the Lake of the Isles, Lowry Hill and Loring Park neighborhoods, as well as some areas along the Mississippi River -- would have to be replaced to complete citywide Wi-Fi coverage.

Lynn Willenbring, the city's chief information officer, said Wednesday she's optimistic that citywide Wi-Fi coverage will be achieved by the end of the year.

US Internet's schedule calls for providing service to the dead zones by the end of November, said Kurt Lange, vice president of operations and customer service. The Loring Park area already has gone live as a result of pole changes, he said.

However, the coverage will be achieved in part by putting up temporary wooden light poles because not all of the new, stronger decorative poles are immediately available, Willenbring said. Replacing some of the temporary poles with permanent decorative polls may take until next spring, she said.

The city is not paying US Internet to build the Wi-Fi network, which will be privately owned, but previously committed to spending $12.5 million over 10 years to buy telecommunications services delivered via the network. The $1 million for replacement light poles will be in addition to that cost. Willenbring also projects that the city will save $3.5 million over the 10-year life of the contract with US Internet as a result of replacing more expensive cell phone and landline communications.

Willenbring attributed the unforeseen cost of replacing the poles to "the newness of wireless networks across the country. Nobody recognized two years ago that the light poles would not be strong enough to support Wi-Fi radios."

The $1 million pole replacement expense is small in relation to the more than $15 million spent by US Internet to build the Wi-Fi network, Willenbring said.

"This is less than a 10 percent overrun," Willenbring said. "You usually build in at least a 10 percent contingency for a project this size."

Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553

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