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Ketchum closes one taxpayer-funded Internet service, but contemplates a new one

Ketchum closes one taxpayer-funded Internet service, but contemplates a new one

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
November 27, 2012

The city of Ketchum may launch a new taxpayer-funded Internet service despite just shutting down its first taxpayer-supported Internet project that produced mixed reviews from consumers, and which eventually became unsustainable.

“We're not sure that we want to get in to the broadband business,” said Lisa Horowitz, director of community and economic development for the city of Ketchum. However, the city has formed a new commission that will commence in December, and it will consider what role the city government might play, if any, in both building out a broadband infrastructure and enhancing the “speed” of Internet service in the community.

In September it was announced that Ketchum's taxpayer-funded wi-fi program was being shut down. Originally launched in the summer of 2007, the program began with a $100,000 grant provided by a private investment firm in New York. “We always knew that the original $100,000 would be insufficient,” Horowitz told IdahoReporter.com.

According to her, the private grant was intended only to assist with the launch of the program, but did not provide enough money to complete the infrastructure or to pay for operational expenses. The city of Ketchum funded the additional expenses to launch the service between 2007 and 2008, at a cost of $3,000 per month from city coffers.

Beginning in 2009, the cost of operating the wi-fi program was shifted from the city budget to the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency (URA). “We found a way to reduce our operational expenses at that point,” Horowitz said. The URA took on a monthly payment of $1,700 to keep the wi-fi program functioning. According to Horowitz, the URA continued paying the $1,700 fee through September of 2012.

Yet at about the same point that the URA assumed financial responsibility for the wi-fi project, consumer complaints began to emerge. According to a report in the Idaho Mountain Express, residents expressed frustrations with “dead spots,” weak wi-fi signals and an inability to log on.

The newspaper story said that the taxpayer-funded Ketchum wi-fi program “never really served its intended purpose of providing reliable Internet access across the city.”

“I'd have to respectfully disagree with that assessment,” Horowitz told IdahoReporter.com. “At its peak, the program absolutely provided reliable Internet service to the downtown core.”

City officials note, however, that one of the key reasons for the demise of the wi-fi program was a decline in consumer demand for wi-fi service. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Randy Hall, Ketchum mayor and URA commissioner, told a community gathering last month.

Horowitz explained to IdahoReporter.com that “increasingly, Ketchum consumers are getting on the Internet via their mobile devices, and mobile service providers are becoming people's Internet service provider of choice.”

Declining demand and the fact that the city wi-fi system needed several costly equipment upgrades resulted in local government officials turning off the system altogether. “We haven't yet decided whether or not the city of Ketchum should get involved with the broadband market,” Horowitz said. “We'll have to wait and see what the commission decides.”

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