While citywide public Wi-Fi has supporters on the new Santa Cruz City Council, the city's Peter Koht says it's a thorny issue.
The thinking goes like this: surely, there must be some way to turn Santa Cruz into Silicon Beach, a free-surfing utopia where budding entrepreneurs ride waves of innovation like Nat Young at Steamers Lane.
One idea is free wireless Internet, and it was a popular one this year on the Santa Cruz City Council campaign trail.
In September, six out of the eight candidates expressed their support for free Wi-Fi. Only Mayor Don Lane and Pamela Comstock dissented against the idea at the Inside Scoop forum at Kuumbwa Jazz Center.
There are a few barriers to city-sponsored Wi-Fi, though, according to tech experts, starting with the speed of innovation.
“Technology moves very, very quickly, and government moves at the speed of government,” says Peter Koht, the city’s economic development coordinator. He notes there are also privacy and safety concerns that come into play.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots have already flopped in cities like San Francisco, Mountain View, Pasadena Houston, St. Louis and Philadelphia. It’s up and running in Milpitas, but that’s by no means the norm.
Chris Stathis, the city’s chief tech officer, says the project would require a massive broadband, something the city has already committed to. But that will take time. Stathis adds people will want constant tech support, well outside the hours the city can offer. “People want their Wi-Fi at 10 o’clock at night, and they want it on the weekends,” he says.
Outgoing councilmember Ryan Coonerty has expressed concerns that free Wi-FI would turn stores “into showrooms for Internet companies,” and says he hasn’t heard many people asking for Wi-Fi anyway.
“I just think we have to be careful that we don’t put our businesses into a situation where they are paying sales tax and employing people and then—using a city infrastructure—we’re allowing people to buy from out state companies that don’t pay sales tax,” Coonerty said in a public meeting last year.