Last week, representatives from the mayor's office told the Oregonian that MetroFi, the company that has the contract to bring free WiFi to 95 percent of the city, wasn't planning to expand beyond its current downtown service area. It seems MetroFi needs Portland city government to be an "anchor tenant"—i.e., spend a lot of money with MetroFi to provide internet service to city agencies. Even though that was part of MetroFi's presentation to the city last year when it made its pitch, the city never promised to spend a penny with the company.
But all may not be lost! A spokesperson for MetroFi called the Oregonian and other news outlets to explain that, in fact, the company was totally still planning on expanding to the rest of the city. But when called for an explanation of how that would happen without any money from the city, MetroFi never responded.
At least part of the idea was to bring internet access to low-income Portlanders. No matter what happens to MetroFi's network, Portland City Council is still on record as being committed to bridging that "digital divide."
There are a couple of ways that could still happen. The volunteer-run Personal Telco Project (PTP), which has been providing free internet access to Portland neighborhoods for years, could expand and fill MetroFi's shoes. But that group's strength—being a nonprofit—could also be its disadvantage; the PTP network is only as large as its volunteer base, and it's driven by principles, not profit.
But city council could direct the Portland Development Commission to partner with the PTP volunteers to build networks for affordable housing buildings, or in certain targeted neighborhoods. Brendan Finn, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's chief of staff, thinks the city should do more to work with groups like PTP or Free Geek on these projects.
"These are all homegrown groups that people in the city like and want to work with," Finn says.