A Nonprofit, a City Council, and a Private Sector Walk Into a Park ...

An unusual partnership

Partnering with Richard MacKinnon's Austin Wireless City Project, the city of Austin turned Republic Square Park into a full-fledged outdoor Wi-Fi hot spot on May 18, the first of an eventual four-park wireless plan.

"At the council, we have a committee on telecommunications infrastructure," says Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, "and all things wired or wireless come under that. We've been interested in anything that works toward universal access, the digital divide, and sometimes economic development for a long time now, and so we're sort of the advocates and champions and supporters of whatever comes up. It's a little difficult to describe exactly what we do. The wireless industry and the benefits of wireless have been around for a long time, but we sort of got caught up in the other technologies, and I think a lot of people have been waiting for a kind of acknowledgment of progress that this tells us we've reached."

Although the park has only been online, so to speak, for less than a month, Goodman says the reaction thus far has been overwhelmingly positive.

"You have the freedom, finally, to be able to do your work and be communicating without having to be in a cubicle or a building. I think it really is indicative of a mindset or an attitude that we have here. And I think that we've done better than any other city that's been trying this sort of thing. I know Dallas is putting together a whole big initiative for it, but even so, we're way ahead."

City of Austin Chief Technology Officer Peter Collins, who worked alongside Goodman and MacKinnon to bring Republic Square Park online, notes that although not every park will likely ever be a bastion of the wireless world, Republic Square is just the first step of, presumably, many more.

"You've got to look at the different areas and weigh the usage against the cost on the various parks when considering whether to make them Wi-Fi hot spots."

And what kind of cost are we talking about?

"It's pretty minimal for the city. We're really leveraging our existing infrastructure, but I do want to say that we do not run this effort from the city network – the traffic is not mixed in to the city network at all, for security purposes. But our cost is pretty minimal, anywhere from maybe $600 to $1,000. And, obviously, Richard's contribution really helps out a lot, too; they do all the access points and a number of different other things.

"What's really neat about this is that it's a nonprofit, city government, and then also a private sector coming together for a common good to give this access to the public. That's really an unusual partnership, and what's neat about it is that it all works."

  • More of the Story

  • The Hot Spot

    How Richard MacKinnon and the Wireless City Project are making Austin the center of the tech universe – again

    Where to Find Wi-Fi

    A partial list of hot spots affiliated with the Wireless City Project in the Austin area
  • Austin Online Wi-Fi Resources

    From Austin Unleashed to the Wi-Fi Alliance

    The Last Mile

    Futurist Bruce Sterling and Austin Unleashed's Zane McCarthy on the potential tangles of wireless

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