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] How is it that San Francisco, one of America’s major cities, and one located less than an hour from Apple’s headquarters has a connectivity problem?
The city’s “Digital Divide in San Francisco” report claims that 100,000 city residents have no home Internet access, and an additional 50,000 residents are limited to dialup connections. Together, those numbers represent 18 percent of the city’s population without high-speed Internet access. Consequences of the digital divide are well-known, including not getting proper digital skills, which causes a hindrance for the success of future students and workers.
San Francisco has a cultural impact larger than its population suggests. It’s no small town, but with “only” 837,000 residents, it’s only the fourth-largest city in California, after Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose. But no one ever wrote a song called “I Left My Heart in San Diego” and San Francisco’s proximity to the Silicon Valley makes its connection problem all the more surprising.
No Broadband by the Bay?San Francisco has a fiber network, but it’s limited in scope, with only 140 miles of fiber—not enough to go around. In 2007, a study concluded that connecting every home and business in the city to fiber would cost $560 million over 15 years. While Google hasn’t published the cost to build its networks, one estimate put the price of the fiber network in Kansas City, home to more than half of San Francisco’s population, at only $84 million. The reason for the huge discrepancy in estimates is unclear, though no one familiar with typical Bay Area rent will be surprised.
Searching for an Answer
San Francisco shouldn’t count on Google to come to the rescue. While Google has plans to bring fiber to the South Bay area, near San Jose, San Francisco’s proximity to Google’s own headquarters makes its absence from the list of future Google fiber networks a sort of elephant in the room. Google even has a San Francisco office and funded free Wi-Fi in more than 30 public parks. But, for whatever reason, Google is ignoring the obvious need for a larger fiber network.
The report mentions expanding the existing fiber network, but that will be expensive. At one point, the city Board of Supervisors considered a measure that would have required laying fiber cable any time electrical or sewer maintenance required digging a trench in the road, though there’s no evidence that it’s yet become law. Expanding the city’s current Wi-Fi network may not be a full solution, but could be used to expand access to those who currently lack it.
Unfortunately for those still wearing a flower in their hair, there are currently no plans any more concrete than proposals. Without an answer, though, San Francisco becomes less appealing to high-tech companies seeking to relocate, which would likely move south toward San Jose, and startups. In turn, that failure to attract new business to the city will make paying for fiber expansion all the more difficult.
Leave Your Dialup in San Francisco
The “Digital Divide in San Francisco” report mentions 17 different ISPs offering service to city residents, and to find one that’s faster or cheaper than your current plan, you don’t need to search far at all. Just enter your zip code below and you’ll get started.
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