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Los Angeles wants to become the largest city with free Wi-Fi

Time Warner Cable has had a tense relationship with the city of Los Angeles and its residents for several years now if not longer. Now the city wants to provide free Wi-Fi to its denizens.
April 11, 2014
Los Angeles

Time Warner Cable has had a tense relationship with the city of Los Angeles and its residents for several years now if not longer.

On February 14, 2011, the Lakers and Time Warner Cable signed a $3 billion, 20-year cable television agreement, which took effect in Fall 2012 but was not seen by a majority of fans in Los Angeles until after the season began due to disputes with several TV providers.

On January 23, 2013, Time Warner Cable and the Los Angeles Dodgers reached terms on a near $8.5 billion, 25-year cable television agreement to create SportsNet LA, which would carry Dodgers games exclusively. As of today, 70% of residents in Los Angeles with cable or satellite can not see Dodgers games due to an ongoing dispute over whether other TV providers should fork over record prices for this one-team channel.

Last month, the city of Los Angeles sued Time Warner Cable for failing to pay nearly $10 million in franchise fees, despite netting $500 million annually from customers in the city.

Now, with dissatisfaction of Time Warner Cable at an all-time high, Los Angeles is trying for a second time to bring in additional competition to the city. On Monday, the city called on competitors to come to town and set up an infrastructure that allows they city’s residents to get free Wi-Fi:

Blumenfield and other city officials announced at a news conference Monday in front of City Hall the release of a “request for information,” a formal question-and-answer period for people or companies interested in helping the city build the high-speed network. Creating a high-speed municipal network that would serve all of Los Angeles would cost anywhere from $60 million to $100 million. Supporters said private industry would absorb the costs, so long as they could monetize their investment. Other cities, for example, have offered free-wifi in exchange for advertising.
‘We want a partner in the private sector to create high-speed access for every home in Los Angeles,’ Blumenfield said.”

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Los Angeles will find any suitors for such a plan due to financial and competition reasons. Internet providers see Wi-Fi as a threat to their business and the city still believes that the private company who comes into the city should pay for the infrastructure that allows for the Wi-Fi coverage.

A report from the California Economic Summit states that free municipal Wi-Fi in Los Angeles will create jobs and boost the economy by upgrading and expanding the city’s digital infrastructure. The report concludes that “finding the best way to pay for closing the digital divide will be important to the Los Angeles and California economies, and bridging that gap would be an instant catalyst for a more vibrant, innovative economy.”

The city last tried to implement citywide Wi-Fi in 2007 under an initiative started by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Tony Cardenas. The city dropped the plan in 2009 after determining that the estimated $38 million to $46 million cost to build the Wi-Fi system would be too expensive.