Minneapolis Wi-Fi network delayed again

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2008 - 6:29 AM

A communication lapse between city staff and the Park Board is holding up completion of the wireless network.

The Minneapolis Wi-Fi network, which for more than two years has been delayed by technical issues, weather problems and signal-blocking leaves, has run into another barrier: the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The board refused Wednesday to allow Wi-Fi antennas to be put on park land around city lakes and the Mississippi River pending further study. That leaves the citywide wireless Internet access network -- which the city has agreed to pay $1.3 million a year to use -- stuck at 82 percent completion.

What's the problem? The city and US Internet of Minnetonka, the builder of the network, didn't follow the letter of the law, said Tom Nordyke, president of the Park Board.

The board "did not learn until a couple of weeks ago there was a plan do Wi-Fi installations in the park system at all," he said. US Internet "mistakenly started installing poles and radios [on Park Board land] without permits."

Lynn Willenbring, the city's chief information officer, said that the city information technology staff and the Park Board staff had discussed the Wi-Fi network but that her staff had not briefed the commissioners.

"It's not accurate to say there was no discussion, but we could have done a better job," Willenbring said.

"We're kind of at an impasse," said Kurt Lange, US Internet's vice president of operations and customer service. "If the Park and Recreation Board turns us down, people who live around the city lakes will not have the opportunity to get city Wi-Fi access."

Nordyke said the board's reluctance to take action on the Wi-Fi network request was also based on historical considerations. The poles and radios would be erected on what are known as the "Grand Rounds," the roads and paths that link the park system. That's an area in which the state historical society and neighborhood groups bordering the parkland have a strong interest, and neither were consulted, he said.

"I have no problem with Wi-Fi, but in order to make it work they have to do installation on what is basically one of the city's greatest historical assets," he said. "I asked that we do two things: have meetings with the city, Park Board and neighborhood groups, and separately meet with the State Historic Preservation Office."

The Wi-Fi issue won't be taken up again until the Park and Recreation Board meets in early January, he said. Any decision by the board can be overruled by the mayor.

"The mayor is interested in making this happen," Nordyke said. "But I think the mayor also wants to make sure he is respectful of the Park Board."

Willenbring said she did not expect the mayor to take any action while her department and the Park Board work out an agreement.

Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553

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