Minneapolis: Broadband Everywhere, for Everyone [Fast Cities 2010]

Most municipal Wi-Fi initiatives end in the graveyard, but cemeteries are among the few spots not covered by Minneapolis's new $20 million wireless network, which blankets 95% of its 59 square miles. As an anchor tenant of the system, the city lowered many of its own costs, while capping resident rates at $20 a month. But the Wi-Fi blanket is also a powerful tool to narrow the digital divide for low-income residents. "It's not just about access to broadband, but affordable access," says Lynn Willenbring, the city's CIO. To bridge the significant usage gap between the lowest- and highest-income homes, Minneapolis established an $11 million digital-inclusion fund. Not-for-profits that offer public computer access get free broadband; hot spots in parks and plazas offer timed free usage; and anyone can access city sites online for free.

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  • Peter Fleck

    I'm a member of the Minneapolis Digital Inclusion Fund Advisory Committee (DIFAC). We are the donor advisors of the "$11 million digital-inclusion fund" managed by the Minneapolis Foundation. Outside of an initial $500,000 paid by US Internet (USI) (the wireless vendor) and required by the contract, there has only been another $5,000 paid in by USI to meet contract-required yearly fundraising. We seem to be missing $10,495,000.

    I'm not sure where that $11M figure is coming from. Even the projections in the contract (page C-1, link below) see USI as paying only $1.75M by year 10 via a 5% pre-tax earnings condition. There are no other current sources of funding and it's unclear if USI will pay any 5% funding in 2010. We provided nonprofit grants of $400,000 over the last two years leaving us with about $105,000 in the fund.

    As for lowering costs via the Wi-Fi network, they are not lowering them enough to equal the yearly $1.25M they are paying USI, another contract condition. This is a concern of many of us in Minneapolis.

    (Here's a link to the original contract stored at my site. There have been amendments but I'm not sure an amended version has been posted at the City's site. http://pfhyper.com/DI/C-23781....