Anywhere municipal wireless is discussed, Corpus Christi, Tex., comes up. Even as cities around the country pull the plug on projects, analysts look to this south Texas city of 300,000 to understand exactly what went right. The answer might turn out to be respect for both the private sector and the complexities of information technology. As such, Corpus Christi may turn out to be the exception that proves the rule that muni WiFi and broadband is incredibly difficult to pull off. Corpus is nearing completion of its 147-square-mile network. It is just one of two cities where its private sector partner, EarthLink, has agreed to remain (the other is Philadelphia, its inaugural system, where sticking around might be a matter of pride). Speaking at a conference last Thursday called “WiFi Done Right Part 2,” organized by the Public Technology Institute (PTI), a Washington-based non-profit organization promoting ideas in urban planning, officials ranging from the city manager to the chief of police sketched a picture of a wireless network that was conceived not as an end in itself, but as an element in a much larger information technology overhaul designed to improve city operations through strategic application of digital technology and large-scale networking. “Our focus was not on the digital divide and not on delivering service into people’s homes,” said George “Skip” Nowe, Corpus Christi city manager.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.