Boston Wireless Internet Plans Hit Snag—Won’t Likely Happen Before 2009

Boston’s ambitious effort to offer wireless Internet access throughout the city by the end of 2008 has run into technology and funding problems that seem bound to delay the network’s implementation, officials of the project acknowledge.

Pamela Reeve, head of OpenAirBoston, the non-profit organization created to manage the program, said the debut of citywide Internet access is “unlikely in 2008,” according to an account by Rob Weisman in today’s Boston Globe. The story notes that a WiFi testbed originally slated to be launched in June in a one-square-mile area in the city’s Grove Hall area will not be complete until later this month.

In announcing its WiFi plans in the summer of 2006, Boston deliberately eschewed the path followed by other cities such as San Francisco, which gave responsibility for building its wireless Internet network to Google and Earthlink. Instead of contracting with outside firms, Boston founded OpenAirBoston to raise up to $20 million in donations from foundations and businesses to build its own network. But Reeve’s group has not been able to raise such funds and has now scaled back its goals to between $12 million and $15 million—but has not said how much has been raised so far, according to the article. The piece also noted that the Grove Hall test bed has been troubled by interference and other technical difficulties and that OpenAirBoston will have to add up to another 13 routers to fill in coverage.

The article quoted Tim Scannell, president of wireless consulting house Shoreline Research, of Quincy, MA, as saying: “In general, Boston has been pretty lethargic about getting this going.” Of course, San Francisco has also suffered delays in its plans. And here in Cambridge, things haven’t moved quite as quickly as hoped, either. The city hasn’t yet firmed up its once-ballyhooed plans. And the Harvard Square Business Association, which had hoped to launch its own mesh network offering free wireless Internet access around Harvard Square by November 1, says its effort has also been delayed, at least for a few more days.

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