Oakland Muni WiFi Initiative
Today I attended the first meeting of Oakland CA CTO Bob Glaze's working committee to pursue Mayor Jerry Brown's initiative to bring WiFi to the citizens of the city of Oakland. Bob held a well organized meeting that included local businesses, the chamber of commerce, citizens, and representatives from a wide variety of Oakland municipal services -- public works, real estate, human services, public safety, economic development, libraries... While not everyone from every interested sector was present, it was a packed room and a great start.
A start to the public part of the process, in any case. Glaze's group actually began work over a year ago when Bob assigned Oakland IT project manager Ken Gordon the task of surveying the various business models that are evolving and how other municipalities are pursuing WiFi initatives. The goal was to build a knowledgebase from which Oakland's unique problems could be addressed... Unique? Yes!
As was raised at the meeting, we have a significant challenge in Oakland. Start with demographics (well below the poverty line to very weathly), continue on to the diversity of the topography (from dense urban to hilly, forested suburban), and the challenges of our business climate -- approaches that are working in other cities are not going to be cookie cutter approaches for Oakland.
But there is a dedicated crew on the job with a focus on real needs that the municipal departments have identified, objectives that economic development and human services have set, and real projects already underway in some corners of the city that will benefit from a city-wide initiative.
Of course given the city's ongoing battles with Comcast (still no contract, headed for litigation?) and big telco's objections to WiFi in other parts of the country... and the fact that it is an election year here in Oakland, things could get... interesting. I am crossing my fingers that a combination of pragmatism and logic will win the day and that Bob will succeed in his goal to issue an RFP by this coming summer. And that enough other cities will have shown the way from RFP to signed contract by then that a cookie cutter approach in this department will be practical, leading to a 2007 start to an era of WiFi in Oakland.