A few years ago, cities wanted to be wired.
Now it’s all about being wireless.
Tempe is at the forefront of what is going to be the next big thing in municipal oneupmanship: Making your entire city a WiFi hot spot.
Tempe likely will become the first city in the United States with border-to-border access to high-speed, wireless Internet.
And it looks like a pretty good deal for the city. The contractor, MobilePro Corporation of Bethesda, Md., is using city light poles and the like to attach the equipment. No charge to the city. MobilePro gets to showcase its wares.
When completed, visitors and residents with laptops with wireless capability will be able to access the Internet from anywhere in town. They will be able to view city and ASU Web pages free. For anything else, they’ll need an Internet Service Provider.
Other cities will follow quickly. Philadelphia plans to become the first big city with citywide wireless capability. The mayor of San Francisco wants every citizen to have it. City-wide wireless will be an issue in the upcoming New York mayoral election.
Yes, this will be the latest rage in the competition among cities.
For most, of course, creating this access won’t be free. Philadelphia estimates its cost will be $7 million to $10 million. And that means the money won’t be spent on something else.
One of the main rationales emerging is that having citywide WiFi will make your town attractive for high tech businesses. And, of course, much coveted knowledge workers. It’s not just spending money — it is investing.
This is another one of these exaggerated economic development claims.
"People need to realize the Internet is only a tool,’’ said Joel Kotkin, author of "The City: A Global History."
If cities want to be vibrant and attractive to workers and companies, Kotkin says, they should concentrate on making life better for middle-class families and providing services that only municipal governments can.
The private sector can’t build and maintain city streets, or landscape public places or provide public safety.
One service the private sector can provide is Internet access.
Anyone with phone service, a computer and a modem can get the Internet. Qwest and Cox are falling all over themselves to sell you high-speed Internet. And WiFi is available at coffee shops, hotels and even convenience stores.
I’m not sure we need the help of nearly every municipal government in the country on this one — but I have a feeling we’re going to get it.