Nine Bid For GR Wi-Fi

April 28, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The 12-week Request for Proposal process ended last week for the city of Grand Rapids’ wireless broadband Internet initiative with nine vendors trumpeting a variety of technologies and résumés.

At least two vendors proposed using a technology other than Wi-Fi, with Broadbreeze Communications and Clearwire proposing cellular technologies. Broadbreeze, the only Grand Rapids-based company to bid, was recently named the vendor for Ottawa County’s municipal Internet project.

The other vendors are likely to employ a Wi-Fi mesh network similar to the one installed in Grand Haven by Ottawa Wireless in 2004. The majority of the nation’s municipal Internet projects currently in development intend to use this technology.

The most notable participant now attached to the Grand Rapids project is Earthlink Municipal Networks. A second tier national ISP for most of a decade, Earthlink is gaining prominence for its recent municipal Internet work. It recently took over the Wireless Philadelphia project, and has partnered with Google on a municipal Internet project in San Francisco.

Earthlink recently announced it would partner with Google on at least one other municipal project. While it is believed New York is the Google partnership’s next target, such a deployment would be a significant draw for Grand Rapids. In the Google model, basic Internet access is free.

“With how it’s set up, Google could be a partner on that, but it’s not part of the proposal,” said Sally Wesorick, city wireless project manager.

Clearwire also made headlines last month when it began rolling out a VoIP telephone service throughout its multi-state wireless network, the nation’s first large wireless ISP to do so.

Other hopeful vendors with municipal experience include (parts of East Lansing), NeoReach Inc. (Tempe, Ariz.; Sacramento, Calif.; Akron, Ohio), RITE Brain Consulting (parts of New Mexico and Nevada), and Pronto Networks (Corpus Christi, Texas).

Relatively new entrants to the municipal wireless arena include NetApex and AT&T.

Historically in opposition to such efforts, the former SBC last month began working with a number of municipalities on their broadband projects in partnership with IBM, specifically where those projects involve public-private partnerships.

A company spokesman told TelephonyOnline that the shift in attitude had come on the part of the municipal governments and not AT&T.

“There is a lot more willingness and interest in private involvement and development,” he said.

The company entered into an agreement last month with the Chicago suburb of Bedford Park, Ill., that will offer free DSL service to residents of the 200-home community.

The consultant in charge of the Grand Rapids project, Bill Stark of Excelsio Communications, speculated last fall that the incumbent telecommunications provider may have re-evaluated its role as a telecommunications company due to increased competition from cable and wireless companies.

The city will select finalists by May 30.    

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