By Olin Ericksen
April 18 -- Not Google nor Earthlink, but AzulStar
may soon be the high-tech company downloaded by the City to
bring the wireless internet revolution to Santa Monica --
and it’ll come with few strings attached.
Soon entering the final phase of product testing with the
City, the Michigan-based company could soon be tapped to monitor
and grow almost a dozen "hot spots" where wireless
(Wi-Fi) internet is now available into an invisible system
that will span all 8.3 miles of Santa Monica in the next few
"The end goal is to provide internet services to residences,
businesses and visitors alike," said Jory Wolf, the City's
Chief Information Officer. "If all goes well… we
envision AzulStar is going to be operational by the end of
next fiscal year, in June of 2008."
From Michigan to Arizona to the Silicon Valley, the company
started by former Intel and McKinsey & Co. managers launched
in 2002 has built six wireless internet systems nationwide,
four of which cover entire cities, according to AzulStar’s
They also boast having built the "first citywide municipal
Wi-Fi network" in the United States in Grand Haven, Michigan,
as well as "the nation's largest and most advanced muni
Wi-Fi network," in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
While not as large other internet giants, AzulStar's promise
of free service may seal the deal in Santa Monica, even as
companies continue to jostle for nationwide contracts from
Los Angeles to New York to install and run citywide wireless
systems, Wolf said.
"Azulstar was chosen because they use good technology
and it works with our business plan to provide free internet
bandwidth for the public," said Wolf. "AzulStar
does the same thing as Google or Earthlink, but they offer
it for free for the public…which is very rare."
While free service could be available through the public
system powered by 2.4 gigahertz, rates for faster service
without advertisements will also be available to residents
and tourists, said Wolf.
Meanwhile businesses will need to pay for access separately,
"We are going to offer businesses the right to competitive
rates, and it will be free to residents and visitors with
advertising," he said.
While rates are still under negotiation, the company could
one day compete with cable providers such as Time-Warner and
Verizon, Wolf said.
"We are ultimately providing consumers a choice, and
the more competition in the market place, the lower the rates
are going to be," said Wolf.
Not only will AzulStar help expand the patchwork of 11 public
areas that offers wireless internet -- including City Hall,
the Third Street Promenade, the Pier and Virginia Avenue Park
-- it will also likely help retool local government services
to function together as what could be likened to a City-wide
"We are moving out of the realm of the office into the
City," said Wolf. "Directions signs, traffic signals,
they are all networkable."
From cop cars to traffic cameras and lights, each device
will eventually receive an address on the internet (commonly
called an Internet Provider, or an IP address) that can be
controlled and better coordinated via a computer.
"All of these devices out in the Public Right of Way
are now manageable as an IP address," Wolf said, noting
4.9 Gigahertz of bandwidth will be set aside for government
use by police and City officials, compared to the 2.4 gigahertz
for public use.
Even as the City continues to move closer to turning over
its fledgling wireless system launched in 2005, the system
continues to expand, said Wolf.
On Tuesday, the Ken Edwards Center logged on for the first
time, according to Wolf. And by the end of May, three more
parks -- the new Airport Park, Reed Park and Cloverfield Park
-- will be wireless accessible as well.
Several other open space areas, such as Memorial and Marine
parks, are also targeted.
The City is also spreading the word through the thriving
"We created a brochure that we've handed out to concierge
services and hotels, and it's a complete map of our Wi-Fi locations
throughout the City," Wolf said.