Having free Wi-Fi access is certainly a great luxury, whether you’re a telecommuter or you need to get online while on vacation. To enjoy this, you usually have to head to the local library or coffee shop. But some major cities throughout the nation want to make city-sponsored Wi-Fi access more widespread. In fact, the six cities below are leading the charge in doing exactly that.
Chattanooga already has one of the fastest, publically owned Internet services at 1GB, now they’re ahead of the game again in terms of free public access. NOOGANET, as it’s known, is available throughout government-owned properties around the city and is accessible to anyone with a Wi-Fi capable device. The city first implemented NOOGANET throughout 18 family development centers in the city and they continue to expand it to more public spaces. It’s the model most of cities should probably be striving for at this time.
San Francisco, one of the leading technological hubs in the U.S., has helped lead the charge by offering free Wi-Fi in 32 public spaces. The city received a $600,000 gift from Google in 2013 that was used to help build the infrastructure and test the networks. Access is available to all residents and visitors in popular areas including Huntington Park, Alamo Square, from Market Street to the Castro and Union Square. The city plans to continue adding on more locations as funds become available. Speeds average roughly 10 to 15 Mbps. If you’re interested in logging on, just look for the #SFWiFi network in your Wi-Fi connections list.
Los Angeles hasn’t quite secured citywide municipal broadband yet, but it’s on its way. In June, the city council voted to start accepting bids for companies willing to provide the service for residents. Officials have identified more than 100 points throughout the city to install fiber hubs. A single hub would reportedly be capable of sending signals to reach 20,000 homes or businesses, so this will have a pretty good reach.
New York City
There are currently about 8,500,000 people living in New York City, so providing free Wi-Fi access to all of them is a large undertaking. First up, providers are offering hotspots in major parks, like Union Square Park and Bryant Park. Different neighborhoods are working at building out Wi-Fi hotspots, like the Harlem Free Wi-Fi Network, to help locals get online.
The most ambitious project is in the works. The city’s LinkNYC will build 10,000 pillars around the city that will send out free Wi-Fi to the people in the surrounding areas. CityBridge, the company contracted to build the hubs, will spend roughly $200 million to set up the pillars in each of the five boroughs in return for ad space. Speeds are expected to reach 1GB, meaning you could theoretically download a two-hour video in under 30 seconds. In addition to providing free Wi-Fi access to residents, the project is expected to generate more than $500 million in revenue and create 150 jobs.
Chicago is trying out several different ways to bring free Wi-Fi to the area, including turning people’s homes into hotspots. While this didn’t really take off, the city did install Wireless Internet Zones in the 80 public libraries and two of its biggest public recreation areas, Daley Plaza and Millennium Park. If a Chicagoan is looking to access free Wi-Fi and isn’t near one of these areas, they can check out free Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to three weeks at a time. This program was made possible thanks to a $400,000 grant and is helping people get online to apply for jobs, do remote work, or study for school.
The nation’s capital has more than 600 hotspots for residents to access free Wi-Fi. All public libraries offer this service and you can utilize it at most city parks and on the National Mall. Having the free Wi-Fi has even helped people digitally communicate during the Presidential Inauguration. To see where the closest one is to wherever you are in D.C., you can use the official D.C. Free Wi-Fi map or access information about these hotspots on the mobile app.
In July, 105 cities throughout the country declared they intend to provide high speed Internet access within the next few years, even if they have to build the infrastructures themselves. You can check if your city is on the list and, if not, petition your local officials to get on board. In the meantime, enter your zip code below to find the best connection available in your area.
[zipfinder] Once known for its railroads, Chattanooga, TN, now calls itself the Gig City. Huntsville, Alabama’s mayor Frank Battle wants his community to be the next Gig City. Though Battle mentioned Chattanooga as a model of what he wants his city to be, Huntsville won’t provide gigabit fiber through a municipal utility, as Chattanooga does. Instead, Huntsville has published a Request for Proposals (RFP) for potential vendors interested in designing and building a citywide fiber network with target speeds of 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps.
Good For Huntsville. What’s it Matter to Peoria?
Increased access to better Internet speeds is always good, but this story does offer something for residents of other communities debating adoption of a high-speed network. Battle said, “Electricity, water, sewer and roads are the infrastructure that has taken us to the 21st Century. Fiber is also an important infrastructure component.” And this is why Chattanooga’s history as a railroad town is worth mentioning: before electricity, paved roads, and sewer systems, it was the railroad that served as the infrastructure that marked a community’s potential for growth.
Speculators lost and made fortunes guessing at the path of future rail lines, and buying real estate along those routes. A railroad running through town was a lure drawing industries in need of railway transport to the area, and those industries drew others, and so on. As Battle stated, roads and electricity served as a similar lure to industry and workers. Will fiber be the next big draw that brings industry and jobs to a community?
Infrastructure is a Lure for Business
To know whether gigabit fiber is the infrastructure of the 21st century, we have to know how big a draw it is for business. According to the FCC, Chattanooga’s investment in fiber played a direct role in bringing Volkswagen and Amazon facilities to the city, creating 3,700 jobs. Highland, IL also believes that its gig network will attract business. City Manager Joe Latham said that the ultimate goal behind the project was job creation. It looks as if the idea is working, too. This August, “The Guardian” wrote, “Money is flowing in. Chattanooga has gone from close to zero venture capital in 2009 to more than five organized funds with investable capital over $50m in 2014 … In large part the success is being driven by The Gig.”
If analysis from “The Guardian” is correct, then municipal governments have a real interest in making sure that their communities become gig cities. If the gig can bring businesses, jobs, and tax revenue, then there’s not a mayor in the country who’s going to think of fiber as a frivolous luxury, something nice to have but entirely unnecessary. With these opportunities in mind, it seems safe to say that high-speed Internet will be the infrastructure American cities need for the next century.
Your Daily Dose of Fiber
Fiber is as important for people as it is for business. Odds are you’re not going to pack up and move across the country just so you can get gigabit fiber Internet. But when you are relocating, and you find that of two nearby communities, only one has fiber, which looks more attractive? The Internet speeds are a luxury in some ways, but they also help define a community’s commitment to infrastructure as a whole. Gigabit-equipped schools help students get more done and learn better. HighSpeedInternet.com even showed a link between ACT test scores and Internet speeds.
Living In a Gig City
Chattanooga’s character and energy has visibly changed for the better since the fiber network came online. I’d love to tell you what it’s like living with the gig, but as someone who lives just outside the service area, I’m as eager as you are for the service to expand to where I live. Hmm. Maybe this time I should be the one entering my zip code below to find better service in my area. How happy are you with your connection?
Image by Luis Parravicini/Flickr