Cincinnati shows Lilly Pad approach to muni-WiFi

Muni-WiFi momentum is gathering speed. The incumbent telcos tried everything they could to stop it: contributing heavily to the campaign coffers of politicians who then tried to pass legislation to block muni-WiFi, stealthily funding various front organizations masquerading as "think tanks" whose "scholars" wrote articles decrying muni-WiFi as socialism, and more. The war is largely over, and now different cities are free to experiment with different approaches to establishing city-wide WiFi networks. Last week we reported on Chicago's promoter-but-no-partner approach, and this week we note Cincinnati's unique contribution to the mix.

Specifically, a unique partnership in Cincinnati has begun to deliver WiFi that is not only free of cost, but also free of pop-up and banner ads. Called Lily Pad, the partnership combines efforts from the City of Cincinnati, Time Warner Cable and the Lily Pad non-profit organization. The effort has already resulted in the establishment of more than 20 Lily Pads or "pods," each with numerous hotspots and still more access points. Another 55 or more are slated to be established in the coming weeks. "We looked at other national (WiFi) attempts," said Ryan Rybolt, a businessman who co-founded Lily Pad. "We thought other approaches were too expensive and we didn't want to ask for taxpayer or city money."

The Lilly Pad model follows a civic action campaign popular in many U.S. cities--the "Adopt a Highway" campaign. Similarly, the Lily Pad group enlisted volunteers and designed a system which called for small donations to sponsor individual hotspots for three years. A family might sponsor a community square for $150 a month or a larger area for $500. Cincinnati has more than 1.9 million inhabitants and a geographical area covering nearly 80 sq. mi., so the program will not cover every square inch of the city, but all regions of the city will have some coverage and no citizen will be too distant from free WiFi access. In an example of the philanthropic nature of Lily Pad, Time Warner Cable is serving as the sponsor of the riverfront hotspot.

"Lily Pad does not receive money from city, state, or federal governments," said Rybolt. "This is by design, as legislative efforts by the telecom industry have derailed efforts in other states and cities that have been using municipal funds to pay for Wi-Fi."

For more on Cincinnati Lilly Pad campaign:
- see David Gardner's Techweb report

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