Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wireless City

Yesterday the General Government Services committee which I chair received an update on the city's efforts to pursue a municipal wireless network. So far staff have identified the uses the city would have for such a system, what other community organizations might be interested and then worked with a consultant to determine what we should include for specifications when we do a Request for Proposals. You'll probably see a story about it when the news paper comes out later today.

Media Release, March 26, 2008

City of Grande Prairie Explores Wireless Broadband Options

Grande Prairie became a city 50 years ago last month when district guide and hunter Henry McCullough delivered its charter on horseback. With tribute to Henry’s trusty steed, Diamond, the City has long since surpassed its one horse-town status and is ready to hit the information superhighway at full speed.

A feasibility project has been completed to explore development of a wireless broadband network that would blanket much of the community, providing the municipality, businesses, government agencies, other public sector groups, and schools with high-speed internet access.

The wireless network will be capable of supporting advanced applications, including emergency response and sophisticated transit and automated vehicle monitoring systems.

Other uses could consist of security and camera applications for traffic monitoring. Part of the project may include hot spots throughout public facilities for citizen and visitor use.

“Grande Prairie is already a hub of commerce as a regional trade centre for about 250,000 people and implementing this project would help us become even more competitive by having access to the technological advances that other larger urban centres have,” says Interim City Manager Ken Anderson.

“At this time, high-speed wireless Internet service is fragmented and is concentrated in the business community,” he says.
The City, guided by a committee comprised of staff along with education, health and business sector representatives, is working with KAZAM Technologies, a management consulting firm in Markham, Ontario that provides professional services in the area of broadband and wireless for a study and development of a strategic framework and a Request for Proposal (RFP) document.

The RFP is expected to be released by the end of April 2008. An RFP process will help determine the final solution and schedule. The City’s Information Technology Services department will bring a recommendation to Council after the close of the RFP process and subsequent evaluations.

The implementation of the project will be based on a cost-benefit analysis, improved municipal service delivery and economic development opportunities, the availability of suitable technology, and a sustainable strategy.

“In addition to the enhanced access to information, the advancement would make Grande Prairie more business- and tech-friendly, increasing the opportunity to attract new investment,” says Dawood Khan, Vice-President, Services and a partner with Kazam.

KAZAM and the City are considering a number of business models including private-public partnerships to recoup its investment in the development of the network or leveraging the City’s assets and needs.
Grande Prairie is ideally suited as a consideration for a municipally run wireless network or a partnership arrangement, says Khan.

“The advantage that Grande Prairie has is its mid-size population with a highly tech-savvy and young population eager to adopt new technologies fast,” he says. “The City is also home to a great deal of enterprise activity in need of wireless applications and mobility that can enhance their operations and increase efficiency.”

The success of municipal networks depends on a viable revenue generating model. Advertising and subscriptions are two solutions that have been considered by other municipalities. The main remaining question is how to develop the right pricing model that would attract customers and convince them to sign up for the services.

“Building a citywide network does not guarantee that businesses will be flocking to sign up for it,” says Khan. “It is a matter of having the right vision and implementing the right strategy for Grande Prairie to make the increasing weight of its economic influence felt across Alberta and perhaps become a model for other like-minded cities.”

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