Alexandria’s proposed citywide wireless network took a giant leap forward Tuesday night, as E-Government Manager Craig Fifer announced that Earthlink had been selected as the city’s preferred vendor to offer the service. The franchise agreement is scheduled for public hearing on Dec. 16.
“The service is going to cost about $20 a month for one megabit per second,” said William Tolpegin, vice president of development and planning for Earthlink, who attended the City Council meeting to support the agreement. “And you can use that anywhere within the city limits.”
The Atlanta-based Internet service provider has more than five million subscribers, and it has recently created a division to handle contracts with several municipal governments including Philadelphia, New Orleans and Anaheim, Calif. The franchise agreement includes the use of 2,700 laptop computers for Alexandria students in grades 9 to 12 — an arrangement that will give all Alexandria high school students 24-hour access to school servers and the Internet.
“It’s exciting to think that these things that some people have called expensive paperweights can be turned into real tools that can be used all over the city,” said Councilman Rob Krupicka.
Under the proposed agreement, EarthLink would build and maintain the network at no expense to taxpayers by mounting wireless devices on city-owned property. The agreement also includes free accounts for city workers, reduced-cost accounts for low-income residents and free service in selected areas such as Market Square. If approved, the service could go live as soon as next summer.
“We hope this is a win-win situation for the city and the vendor,” said Fifer.
Former President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying that there’s “no limit to what you can do or where you can go if you don't mind who gets the credit.”
Take efficiency reviews, for example. After a staff presentation about two recently completed reviews on Tuesday night, Councilman Rob Krupicka recalled how he and Councilman Paul Smedberg had first proposed the idea while campaigning in 2003. From the back of the room, Julie Crenshaw objected loudly as she pointed to her husband Townsend Van Fleet — whose campaign for mayor in 2003 also proposed efficiency reviews.
“Well, a lot of people want to take credit for things,” Krupicka said as Van Fleet and Crenshaw promptly exited council chambers.
The Sound of Silence
A recent survey of Alexandria Comcast viewers said that 60 percent of subscribers have watched a City Council meeting on channel 70. But those who were watching on Tuesday night saw something odd — members of City Council sitting in silence staring off into space.
The dull television spectacle was brought to Alexandria by CBS, the television network that wanted to charge the city $1,000 per minute for the rights to broadcast a segment about Alexandria’s Seaport Foundation. Former Old Town resident Katie Couric aired a segment about the nonprofit organization on Oct. 23, and Councilman Ludwig Gaines suggested that it be rebroadcast during a City Council meeting. But when city officials found out about the licensing fee they decided to air the segment in only the council chambers, with the television broadcast avoiding visual or audio feed from the CBS property.
“We’re watching people watch television,” said Comcast producer Jerry O’Connor, who works the control room across the hall from council chambers. “I suppose you could say this is interactive television.”