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Hollywood's failed wi-fi rankles residents

TMCNet:  Hollywood's failed wi-fi rankles residents

[June 29, 2012]

Hollywood's failed wi-fi rankles residents

HOLLYWOOD, Jun 29, 2012 (Sun Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The city had planned to be on the front lines of technology but instead finds itself sidelined over a $3.8 million wi-fi debacle.

The city's wi-fi has never worked and residents call the broken network a headache that invades their homes and blocks Internet access from their own providers.

Settlement negotiations over the failed project have dragged on since at least January. In addition to that money, the city has been waiting since March for the company that installed the system to pay $856,197 for promised savings that never panned out from a three-part technology package.

"It ended up a disappointment," Vice Mayor Linda Sherwood said. "It's been a long, drawn-out project...but they are paying us back the savings they promised and I am hopeful that the settlement will be exactly what we need." Hollywood resident Larry Schweiker says he has trained himself to ignore the city's bogus wireless hot spot when he logs onto his laptop.

"It's a tease," Schweiker said. "You see it and think free wi-fi, perfect, but it just shows up there and it's useless." In 2008, the city signed a contract with Johnson Controls to install wi-fi for $3.8 million, an automated water-meter reading system for $9.2 million, and solar-powered parking meters for $3.1 million. The city borrowed $16 million to pay for it.

The aim was to install transmitters throughout the city that would enable digital water-meter readings, credit-card parking-meter payments and a secure police and fire network.

The cherry-on-top fringe benefit: A free citywide wireless network.

The wi-fi tanked for a lack of places to set up transmitters without signal interference from big buildings and towers.

In a prepared emailed statement, Chris Markert, vice president of Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls said: "We are fulfilling the terms of our contract and at this time, we are working cooperatively with the city to close out any remaining issues with the wi-fi portion of the project." What frustrates residents are the hundreds of access points -- or little antennas -- affixed to the tops of poles and light posts across the city which continue to broadcast "Wireless Hollywood" yet are unable to connect to the Internet.

Julie Good, a Cleveland Street resident, says the broken network interfered with her Internet service provider and she emailed the city April 30 asking for help but never heard back.

"The signal from my AT&T router is being blocked by the Hollywood wireless network and AT&T states it cannot be fixed with their equipment," she wrote.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Good said: "It was expensive, annoying and frustrating. Nobody could figure out what the problem was." After five days without Internet service, AT&T instructed Good to buy a new router that could cancel out Hollywood's wireless. She's since remedied the problem.

It will be the city's duty to remove the troublesome access points after the settlement is finalized, city spokeswoman Raelin Storey said.

"The city is looking to recover a significant portion of the wi-fi system," Storey said. "We're still working out what the actual settlement would be, but we're talking millions of dollars." Hollywood's City Attorney Jeff Sheffel continued discussions with Johnson Controls last week, Storey said: "The dollar amount separating the two sides is not insurmountable." Under the terms of the contract, Johnson promised the three-part technology package would save the city $23 million over 15 years. If the savings didn't pan out, they promised to pay the difference.

The city took out a loan, counting on the annual savings to pay it off.

Although the meter-reading system is 99 percent complete and the parking meters are working, savings have yet to materialize.

In 2010, the first year the program was up, Johnson paid $926,000 back to the city. The city has been waiting since March for a payment of $856,197 for 2011.

tealanez@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4542. Twitter @talanez ___ (c)2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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