L.A. WiFi project connects businesses and community


Eric Sloan talks about lighting up Los Angeles communities.

A community-based WiFi project in the Manchester area of Los Angeles was one of the highlights of the first day of regional broadband consortia meetings organized in Sacramento by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Eric Sloan, director of technology for Manchester Community Technologies, described how his organization created free, community WiFi access by working with local businesses.

“It is a business initiative to get people to adopt and use broadband,” Sloan said. Working with the Los Angeles County Regional Broadband Consortium, his organization provides WiFi hot spot equipment to local businesses willing to share Internet bandwidth. MCT manages the network, monitoring performance and usage. The businesses generate additional foot traffic and benefit from online promotion via the system.

Sloan said they’ve signed up 65 businesses for the program and serve 1,500 people a month, with an expectation that figure will triple over the next three years.

Today’s meeting featured a keynote speech by Pat Kennedy, the founder of OSIsoft and the man behind the Lit San Leandro project. He encouraged regional consortia to look for ways to leverage existing assets, such as publicly owned conduit, to build fiber networks. “If the conduit is in place it’s not hugely expensive to put fiber in the ground”, he told the group.

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to sharing ideas amongst the consortia. Rachel Audino from the San Joaquin Valley and Brent Smith from the Gold Country regions described successfully financing broadband projects. Connie Stewart from the Redwood Coast and Peter Koht from the Central Coast addressed developing local policies that encourage broadband development. Alicia and Larry Ortega from One Million NIU in Los Angeles and Nancy Martin from the Central Coast talked about broadband adoption programs.

The program was moderated by Ana Maria Johnson from the CPUC, Linda Best from the East Bay Broadband Consortium and Tara Thronson from the Connected Capitol region, which is also the host consortium for the event. It continues tomorrow.

About Steve Blum

Steve Blum is president of Tellus Venture Associates, a management, planning and business development consultancy for municipal and community broadband initiatives. He is a 30-year industry veteran and an expert in developing new broadband infrastructure and services, including wireless, fiber optic and satellite systems. His career includes playing key roles in the launch and growth of DirecTv in the U.S., as well as other satellite broadcasting platforms around the world. For the past ten years, he has helped build municipal wireless and fiber optic broadband systems. His client list includes many California cities, such as San Leandro, Palo Alto, Oakland, Los Angeles, Lompoc and Folsom. He’s a member of the executive team for the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and has worked with other regional consortia in California. Steve is the author of seven books on the Internet and satellite broadcasting and is a frequent contributor to professional journals and industry events. He holds an A.B. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in East Asia Studies from the University of Washington, and an M.B.A. from the University of St. Thomas. He is a triathlete and multiple Ironman finisher, and is currently ranked in the top 100 of the Challenge Triathlon world rankings, out of more than 30,000 athletes.