It’s been a not-so-quiet week in the good fight for control of our  
information future.

A hearty thank you to East Harriet Neighborhood Association and  
Seward Neighborhood Group, which have added their voice to the call  
for the Minneapolis to consider public ownership of the citywide  
wireless network. Once again, the votes were unanimous.

We had an article in the Monday Star-Tribune business section. If you  
missed it, read it at

We are getting ready for next week’s Minnesota Global Forum, hosted  
by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Please join us to  
discuss the benefits of public ownership, and why a robust  
information infrastructure is vital to our city’s future. The  
conversation will take place at Acadia Cafe (corner of Franklin and  
Nicollet), from 5 to 7 pm on Wednesday, January 18. I’ve been told  
you should come a little early to get refreshments. They sell beer  
and wine as well as all the usual cafe fare.

Finally, the City Council has gotten your letters, but they do not  
yet seem to have gotten the message. City Councilors have said it is  
true that they did not seriously consider public ownership, but it is  
too late to do so now.

We disagree with that assessment. So I was thrilled today to read a  
column that authoritatively sums up what a legitimate process does,  
and does not look like. It is a commentary on San Francisco, but the  
parallels to Minneapolis are clear. I’ve included some of the ten  
questions below. The full version is available at http://

January 11, 2006
10 questions San Franciscans need to ask about that RFP
by Craig Settles, author of “Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal  
Wireless: Applying lessons from Philadelphia’s WiFi story”

There seems to be quite the dust up in San Francisco over the RFP for  
a WiFi network, and from all sides of the political spectrum. The  
conservative view is the standard free-market arguments about  
government in the private sector’s business. The heart of the left  
and moderates argument is that the RFP doesn’t seem complete nor  
responsive to the needs of the people.

You can read an article and a blog that lay out some specific issues  
of contention.

Having looked at S.F.’s RFP, re-read Philadelphia’s RFP and knowing  
the many steps Philadelphia took leading up to their RFP, I believe  
there are a few vital things missing in the city by the Bay. If  
groups supporting muni WiFi in San Francisco or any city ask the  
following questions in the context of the process that Philly  
followed, many cities would get a better start to their initiatives.  
Don't imitate every step Philly took. Ask the questions they asked  
and answer them in a way that best fits your city.

1. Is there a steering committee for this initiative that is  
reflective of the city?

The mayor of Philadelphia selected an executive steering committee of  
15 people representative of various community and business  
constituencies, and two from the city government. The committee  
brought in a consultant firm proficient in muni WiFi deployments for  
guidance. In S.F., the Techconnect review panel has seven members:  
three from the city, two from the Public Utility Commission, one  
community rep and the consultant firm Philadelphia retained.

2. Does the steering committee have a deeply thought out, clearly  
articulated vision of where they think this initiative should go?

Philadelphia’s committee worked together as a group in one session to  
complete an eight-page workbook in a vision-development exercise.  
They defined what a wireless network should and shouldn’t be, what  
services it should deliver to the communities, and worked through 30  
values to determine “What values drive the development of this  
community technology program?”

3. Was there, or is there a plan for, an aggressive needs-analysis  
process that reflects the diverse city?

The committee conducted 20 extensive focus groups with about 15  
people each, and each group represented a key constituency, including  
ethnic groups, neighborhoods, health care, education and business.  
Even the incumbents were invited to a focus group, which they  
declined. Participants were recruited and selected based on their  
recognized standing (formal or informal) as a leader within their  
respective constituency. All economic strata of the city were  

4. Is there a business plan?

The executive committee, in 90 days and before the RFP was issued,  
created a 72-page business plan for the wireless initiative. As with  
any multi-million dollar business venture, the plan included ROI  
projections, business model analysis, an analysis of best practices,  
infrastructure definition, stakeholder analysis and plan for  
marketing the network to the various constituencies.

5. Has there been a technology feasibility study?

For nearly a year before the RFP was issued in Philly, there was a  
series of “proof of concept” deployments of WiFi networks, spectrum  
analysis, RF testing and five pilot projects in different parts of  
the city that each brought together a different set of vendors’  
products. S.F. cancelled their plans for a feasibility study.

10. Does someone have the political will to put the brakes on  
something that might not be a great idea?

Whatever you want to say about the Philadelphia initiative, the  
people driving the process showed a willingness to slow down, revise,  
re-write or whatever was necessary to get the job done right. If you  
look at some of the dissent about the S.F. project, it’s about too  
few people making key decisions who aren’t plugged in enough with  
citizens. Even though the RFP calls for this network to be build for  
free, everything comes with a price, often paid by those citizens.  
Citizens are saying they want to see enough to know enough so they  
can determine if this RFP is a good idea. And they want it changed if  
it isn’t good.

Bottom line. Many cities are racing to be one of the first with muni  
WiFi deployments. They see what Philly is doing and they want to be  
part of that. When you look at these first couple of cities that are  
deploying, you see the political fights, the early network build outs  
and the first couple of failures. What you don’t see is all of the  
preliminary work that went into (or should have gone into) these  

It’s a staggering job to do this muni WiFi thing right. Yet with the  
stakes being what they are, don’t you owe it to your city to ask  
these important 10 questions, with an understanding of how these  
pioneering cities addressed the issues?

Provided by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance,
Contact: Becca Vargo Daggett, 612.379.3815 x209, becca at
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