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Monday, February 18, 2008

No way to 250k for Wi-Fi boondoggle

Mayor Douglas H. Palmer wants City Council to appropriate $250,000 in the middle of a budget crisis to pay for costs involving planned citywide Wi-Fi services, with a resolution awarding the moneys up for consideration this week at City Council.

The problem is that when first announcing the plan in November 2007, Mayor Palmer told City Council and the rest of the city that the wireless network would be constructed free of charge to the city, and that construction - involving the placement of many Wi-Fi devices all over Trenton - has certainly not happened yet.

"This broadband wireless network will be constructed at no cost to the city," said Mayor Palmer in a Nov. 20 press release. "In addition, E-Path will build, at no cost to the city, a separate, secure, dedicated network that the city will be using for police, fire, and emergency services, communications, and all other city services."

The only thing Trenton was supposed to pay for was the actual broadband wireless service itself, and none of the cost associated with all of the work that goes into setting up such a network.

But now it appears Mayor Palmer is asking the city for the very start-up money that Trenton officials were told was unnecessary by officials from E-Path Communications, Inc., who said publicly that their operation was footing the cost of installing infrastructure necessary for such a network.

And while the idea of a citywide Wi-Fi network certainly is interesting, from the start the whole point was that the plan would be a financial liability, with a company that has yet to prove itself elsewhere tasked with an endeavor that has not been done successfully anywhere else.

That financial liability problem was seemingly negated back in November when Mayor Palmer said the network would be built free of charge, but now it seems even that safeguard is being removed, and that leaves City Council a fairly simple choice tomorrow.

The seven members can either vote to approve the moneys for what is certainly a risky operation in the middle of a severe city fiscal crisis that has tax rates set to rise again, or they can vote no, and let E-Path and other such companies prove themselves somewhere else, in a city with less to lose financially than Trenton.

It is really that simple.

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