February 17, 2006
 

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Posted: 12.01.05

The Case for Municipal Broadband

Itís time for companies to lead, follow or get out of the way.
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By Craig Settles




The discussion of municipal broadband wireless as a practical solution for business needs has been hijacked by a handful of companies and reduced to meaningless sound bites about inappropriate business pursuits by cities. Those of you in the commercial sector should be paying careful attention, because this discussion affects your businesses.

Plainly stated, city and county governments (aside from their legislative role) are business operations. They take in revenue (taxes) to provide a product (services), and their ROI is determined by how much service they provide relative to their budgets. Governments have operational issues similar to commercial entities, including legions of mobile workers and numerous physical assets that must be managed.

Why does this concern you?

Wi-Fi, WiMAX and all of their variants enable municipalities to improve their ROI. Instead of a plant floor or business campus, a city employee’s workplace is the city’s geographic boundaries. Similar to businesses, the city owns or can negotiate access to the infrastructure within its boundaries on which Wi-Fi can be deployed. City employees’ productivity and efficiency are greater, and the city can better manage its assets, with broadband, rather than cellular wireless data, service, plus the city’s budget won’t be taking hits from on-going per-worker and per-asset charges.

Here’s the relevance to your business.

First, your business pays city taxes and fees. Don’t your executives want your tax dollars maximized to get the greatest efficiency in the delivery of those services? Everything from building inspections to paperwork processing and traffic control around your place of business will improve once your city eliminates paper-based management of its mobile workers and assets.

Second, public safety issues are business issues. Those always griping about too much government would think twice if their plant, office building or home suffered preventable losses because their city was hindered from improving its communication infrastructure and operating procedures. As hurricanes Katrina and Rita painfully illustrated, wireless data may be the only communication lifeline your business and employees have after a disaster hits.

Third, you’re a responsible business manager. Would you rather spend $60 to $80 a month for each mobile worker to get wireless data access at speeds a little above dial-up, or spend $20 a month to give those same workers access at DSL speeds? “Government getting into the ISP business” is a red herring discussion. Ignore it! Cities driving partnerships in which a new breed of ISP leverages the latest technology to deliver a superior service at a better price gives you, the customer, a better business technology option that directly impacts your bottom line. If I’m not mistaken, this is the cornerstone of the free enterprise system.

Fourth, municipal broadband is the tide that raises many business boats. The Internet is the lifeline of business operations. Wireless access to your workers strengthens that lifeline. Just imagine what happens when more cities and counties deploy wide-ranging Wi-Fi networks. Local businesses that may be your customers or business partners can tie into these to more easily communicate and transact business with you, as well as improve their own business operations. The whole eco-structure of business, including supply chain management, will improve in ways we can’t yet imagine.

So, you have a choice. Sit on the sidelines and watch these melodramas between municipalities and telecoms unfold. Or, in the interest of your business and employees, step out front and lend your voice to this issue.
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