The City of Minneapolis is in the process of rolling out a city-wide WiFi service for residents. It’s not a free service. Rather, there are daily and monthly subscriptions available to anyone who anyone with a WiFi connection in the city.
A Community Benefits Agreement is tied into the project, which outlines a series of concessions the vendor – in this case, local ISP, US Internet – as expected to make in exchange for being rewarded the contract.
One concession that’s particularly interesting is a “civic garden” of websites that are deemed publicly accessible with or without a wireless subscription. The sites reside on the public Internet, but are given a free pass by USI.
A group has been working to decide what types of sites deserve this special status, and building a site that will act as a portal to the sites given this free pass. Generally, sites tied to local government services and non-profit social service type sites will make the cut. Here’s a mock-up of a page from the proposed civic garden portal:
The portal looks impressive, and seems to do a better job of organizing the various services available to Minneapolis residents than the city’s own website does. Very cool.
But what I don’t understand is who really benefits from the free civic garden. Think about this: how many people in the city of Minneapolis have a computer, with WiFi, but no Internet access today? How many of those people would use their computer to access a handful of government and non-profit websites, given the chance? That seems like an impossibly small number of residents.
As I see it, the biggest market for this type of content (free with WiFi access) isn’t city residents but city visitors. Thousands and thousands of people visit Minneapolis every day for business with laptops in tow. What types of content could make their time in our city more enjoyable?
Chicago is now starting a similar discussion. Peter Fleck has a lot more info on the Minneapolis Wireless scene on his blog.