Feds footing the bill for municipal broadband?

Some towns are using public safety grants for law enforcement wireless networks to cover their initial costs for building a broadband infrastructure.

NEWTON, Mass.--Many people think municipal broadband is only used for free public outdoor Wi-Fi, but it may be its lesser known uses that get it paid for.

According to presenters here at MuniWireless New England, some towns are using public safety grants for law enforcement wireless networks to cover their initial costs for building a broadband infrastructure.

"Police are the biggest users of the network and they all are telling me their cruiser has become their desk. The only time they need to come to headquarters now is to book someone, deliver physical evidence or to get their computer repaired and back in service," said Charles Hewitt the chief information office for the city of Providence, R.I.

The city paid for its municipal broadband infrastructure used for the police network through grants from Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, according to Hewitt.

Once a broadband infrastructure for police and first responder networks is in place, municipalities are free to build on it for other things.

The method has two benefits, according to Chip Yager, director of operations for Motorola, which offers consulting services along with its equipment for municipalities.

"The way I see it, when municipalities say they want (Wi-Fi) for free, they want to make sure the system is paid for, or pays for itself. With a municipal broadband system you can," Yager said.

Yager said towns can pay for their initial infrastructure with grants tied to public safety and then hand off the challenges of building and figuring out a way to pay for outdoor public Wi-Fi to an experienced company.

"You can take the best radio antenna in the world, but if it's not deployed properly, it's not worth anything. That's why we're picking our partners carefully, said Yager.

"We'll deploy a system and the municipalities can then outsource network deployment for city Wi-Fi and let that company work out the challenges of how to pay for that," he said.

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