Friday, September 21, 2012

Ketchum to halt Wi-Fi network

City says users down, equipment old and costly


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency voted Monday to pull the plug on Ketchum Wi-Fi, a wireless network supported by the city since the fall of 2007.

“The equipment is dated and would be expensive to replace,” Ketchum Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz said.

A short discussion ensued before URA Commissioner Nina Jonas moved to discontinue support of the network. The motion passed unanimously.

The wireless network was originally made possible through a grant of an undisclosed amount from the New York City-based Allen & Co. investment firm to buy the necessary equipment. However, the grant was not quite hefty enough to cover all costs and the city opted to contribute about $100,000 in fiscal 2007 to get the network up and running. It was launched in September 2007.

“It seemed like a no-brainer at the time,” Mayor and URA Commissioner Randy Hall said at the meeting Monday.

However, the Allen & Co. grant dried up at the end of 2008, and in early April 2009, the city first considered discontinuing the network. The city cited lack of a main benefactor in tandem with expensive monthly maintenance costs as the reasons to shut it down.

In an interview Wednesday, Horowitz said maintenance costs for the first few years of the network’s life were about $2,500 per month, or $30,000 per year, for equipment and technical support.

Ultimately, the city found a way to reduce maintenance costs to about $1,460 per month, or about $17,500 per year, and in mid-April 2009 opted to keep the network alive. Horowitz said Wednesday that costs are still about $1,460 per month.

Unfortunately, the network never really served its intended purpose of providing reliable Internet access across the city. In April 2009, Horowitz said many users found the system difficult to use and complained of weak signals indoors, as well as dead spots throughout the city or simply an inability to log on to the system.

Ketchum resident Mickey Garcia said at the meeting that he had recently tried—without success—to get online using the network in several locations around the city.

On Wednesday, Horowitz said that usage of the network has declined relative to the rise in popularity of smartphones, which do not require a wireless network to access the Internet.

“For me, that’s the whole thing right there,” she said.

Hall said it just wasn’t worth sinking more taxpayer money into the network.

“[The original $100,000] is long gone and now the equipment is antiquated,” Hall said at the meeting. “It’s time to move on.”

Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com




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