Politics: Green Eggs And WiFi

By Jeffrey Bradley

A project requires three “legs” for successful completion: time, quality and money. Otherwise, it’s like fixing again and again a crookedy stool.

So, where’s the free WiFi?

If you have it, don’t tell the residents of Orchard Park. WiFi there is not on the menu.

Here’s the problem. This system was designed eons ago, or at least before Hurricane Wilma. If you recall, all sorts of lines and utility poles crashed down during the Big One of ‘05. Hey, some of us fretted sans power for over a week. It was discovered back then that the poles serving Orchard Park were quaint throwbacks from the 1930s. Because of antiquification, and the way they connected to Mt. Sinai, FPL jumped Orchard Park ahead of other neighborhood projects and retrofitted the neighborhood with newer, larger, metallic poles. Very good of them, right?

Not so fast, Gertrude. First ask yourself: When is a pole not a pole?

When it’s in Orchard Park, of course!

Turns out those old poles were “assets” that the modems, boosters and gateways had to be mounted on to construct the WiFi net. Oops! And when the technicians came to install equipment, the wooden poles were gone. Or different. Or something. See, during the Capital Improvement Projects ROW work, the creosote-soaked poles were whisked away, making room for fewer poles with upgraded acorn-top pedestrian lights instead of those vaguely menacing cobra-head thingums. Hurricane Wilma proved a kind of a Bernie Madoff weather event that robbed us of assets—and our WiFi.

For Orchard Park, the waiting began. WiFi: How exciting! How adventurous! How forward-thinking! But… not quite ready. And—who knew?—down at City Hall the second act of the drama was unfolding with much ado over “coverage”, “acceptance rates” and contractor responsibility before the city would accept the system. Meeting expectations was harder than anyone imagined.

Recall at the time that no other city had implemented WiFi successfully. But IBM was confident of pulling it off. There was a great deal riding on it, to the tune of $5 million. A dustup ensued over the expense incurred by offering this public amenity, and much back-and-forthing over who would accept, pay, and be held responsible, for failure. Meanwhile, the clock ticked away. Finally, appropriately enough, on Halloween the switch was flipped and the whole thing came online.

And it worked, it worked! Oh, there were grumbles aplenty, and more trouble signing on to it than Windows Vista, but the city’s help desk was designed to deal with that. The number of users doubled, then doubled again as evermore people latched on to free Internet. Naysayers were overthrown, and the city rightly outdid the peacock in display and preening.

But… no WiFi in Orchard Park. On nary a pole, and not in the rain. Not up on the roof, nor on the toy train. They got no free signals, nothing by damn. They didn’t get WiFi, Sam I Am.

Here’s the nexus of the crisis. The city’s got a problem, and knows it. Not only measured by who’s logging in where, but by the sheer number of complaints. They can see the great, big WiFi hole smack dab in the Orchard Park net.

All of which occasioned an odd series of events. City staff and IBM bigwigs were soon seen flitting about the neighborhood, laptops in hand, seeking for signals. Marveling at the nattering parrot flocks, they scoured endlessly for WiFi. To little avail; there were more birds than waves.

Then, while nervously considering a green conure swooping round a Royal palm—Eureka! There’s no signal because the poles are gone!

But alas: the 90-day “test drive” had come and gone, with IBM meeting acceptance rates (even minus Orchard Park), and making the City spend extra funds in bringing what others already had. New poles were speedily ordered and, once installed, will be loaded with equipment posthaste.

Until then, we still have the parrots.

If the price of foot-dragging still hasn’t been borne in upon you, here’s another example (keep in mind time, quality, money):

Orchard Park sits right next to the La Gorce/Pine Tree neighborhood, whose delays have cost them improvements, too.

Adequate drainage there is basically like getting a Joe’s Stone Crab reservation: doesn’t exist. And tho’ both things are by now a tradition, most homeowners would rather not have standing water for days after it rains. The plan to address this (there is one, yes; there’s a plan for in this town for everything), has already been drawn up and funded, even for the side streets. It specifically called for increasing the size of “outfalls” from the drains to the Bay. Yet, so much time elapsed between system design and groundbreaking that the rules themselves changed. With permits denied because additional water can no longer be shunted into Biscayne Bay, the city must submit to a bureaucrat-heavy appeals process. Moreover, if it fails to convince DERM and DEP to waive these new rules, the administration will need to trudge back to the drawing boards and redesign a system to mitigate flooding. Is this as clear as Pluto on a cloudy night?

Now, how long do you think this is going to take, and at what additional cost? We’re afraid to even raise the question of where the funding will come from.

<Sigh> For now, this and other arcane issues like drying the land enough to build roads have halted the process. In fact, all further improvement projects have ground to a halt, except for that Indian Creek/Collins Avenue upgrade, snuck in while the higher-ups weren’t looking. (And don’t get us started on the lack of bicycle lanes or the postage-sized sidewalks of that project!)

We think, somehow, that things could be better. Perhaps the Administration can find a way of speeding things up ‘cause—check it out, Nero—while they fiddle the rest of us burn.

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