Wireless network launch delayed in Southwest

Southwest residents won’t have access to the new citywide wireless network as early as originally planned.

U.S. Internet, the Minnetonka-based company the city chose to build the network, ran into a snag when testing revealed some of the structures in Southwest parks aren’t strong enough to support the wireless equipment. That has pushed back the date the wireless network will go live in Southwest from the end of June to a target date of Aug. 22.

Southwest was originally scheduled to be the second area of the city – after Downtown – to go live with the network, which will be completed in six segments based on geographic areas of the city. With the delay in Southwest, however, U.S. Internet and city officials decided to move ahead with work in the Midtown area of the city while they figure out how to proceed in Southwest. The wireless network is expected to go live in Midtown in mid-July, according to Kurt Lange, U.S. Internet co-founder and vice president of systems and customer service.

U.S. Internet and city officials are reevaluating other structures in Southwest that could hold the equipment needed to create the wireless network.

“We’re kind of just exploring all the options right now,” Lange said.

Other structures that could be used to support the wireless equipment include streetlights, lights used to illuminate sports fields and buildings. All of those options will be considered as well as more outside-the-box options such as installing fake trees or seeing if people might volunteer to have the equipment placed on their homes, said Jim Farstad, a technical consultant who has been working with the city on the wireless network.

“What we have to be careful about in the park areas are the aesthetics,” Farstad said.

He added that by and large, most of the structures U.S. Internet had planned to install wireless equipment on have worked fine. Up to 2,000 wireless devices will be installed throughout the city on light poles, traffic signals and buildings. Some of the park lamps in Southwest simply weren’t strong enough to support the equipment and officials wanted to take the time to rethink their strategy, Farstad said.

“The schedule is very important, but we want a system that is designed to be the optimal broadband wireless system for the city,” Farstad said, adding that everything is still on track for the entire citywide network to be completed in November, as originally planned.

In the meantime, Minneapolis officials are planning a series of meetings to provide community members with information about the new technology. Two of the six meetings will be held in Southwest. The first is scheduled for Thursday, July 19 from 5:30-7 p.m. at Lyndale Farmstead Park, 3900 Bryant Ave. S. The second is planned for Wednesday, Aug. 15 at the same time and location.

The meetings (find the date, time and location of all the meetings at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/wirelessminneapolis/2007CommunityMeetings_wireless.asp) will feature time for residents to ask city officials and executives with U.S. Internet questions about the network. Officials will also provide information about the construction of the wireless network, which is the result of a public-private partnership between Minneapolis and U.S. Internet, as well as details about the process for creating community portal pages. These network pages can be established from geographic or non-geographic perspectives, and are touted by city officials as one way to provide neighborhood and community organizations with a communication tool.

The pages are one piece of the community benefits agreement the city negotiated as part of its 10-year contract with U.S. Internet. The company will also contribute an advance of $500,000 and a minimum of 5 percent of its annual wireless revenue to a Digital Inclusion Fund that would aim to provide digital services and programs in low-income communities.