Digital El Paso: A Public-Private Business Model for Community Wireless Networks

Digital El Paso: A Public-Private Business Model for Community Wireless Networks

Barbara Walker (Cisco Systems, Inc., USA) and Evelyn Posey (University of Texas at El Paso, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2997-4.ch006


The Digital El Paso (DEP) community wireless network was deployed as a public-private business model to achieve digital inclusion, sustain economic development, and enhance government and public services. The design, implementation, and funding of DEP were achieved through the collaboration of local businesses, core community members, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and government entities. In particular, Cisco Systems, Inc. provided design and planning support to complement Intel Corporation’s seed funding for the site survey. El Paso County, the City of El Paso, El Paso Independent School District, the Housing Authority of the City of El Paso, and El Paso Electric provided equipment and services. The purpose of DEP is to provide wireless Internet access to achieve social inclusion and economic development. DEP’s main challenges include lack of funds, limited user acceptance, and insufficient user training. The policy implication is that leveraging public/private partnerships enhances collaboration and increases the chances of success of community wireless networks. A family-centric approach to drive the adoption of these emerging networks and increase bandwidth utilization, particularly in rural and underserved communities is also recommended.
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Setting The Stage

In 2006, the frenzy of “free” municipal wireless networks was taking off, sparking a debate between community activists and telecommunications companies (Abdelaal & Ali, 2008; Abdelaal, Ali, & Khazanchi, 2009). Many people thought that municipal wireless networks were a viable solution for affordable Internet access, but the question was how to pay for them (Cisco, 2006a, 2006b; Rideout & Reddick, 2005; Simpson, 2005). In other words, what is the suitable business model?

The prevailing wisdom among community leaders seemed to fall into two camps. One group believed that they could negotiate free wireless Internet for all citizens by contracting with large ISPs (Brietbart, 2008). In this model, ISPs would make money from monthly subscriptions and sales of advertisements that could be delivered to connected citizens. Some envisioned a recurring revenue stream from other accompanying services. The other group believed that cities should own the network and fund the build-out by adopting an anchor productivity or municipal application such as automated parking meter reading, code enforcement, utility meter reading, emergency responder, or traffic management (Quinn, 2006). Both groups advocated for a participatory design model, where end users are involved in the design and outcomes of the project as a way to ensure the sustainability of such community-centered projects (Carroll & Rosson, 2007; Simpson, Wood, & Daws, 2003).

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