Minneapolis Unwired: Are we retconning?

Retconning or “retroactive continuity” is about rewriting history to account for “purposeful changes or inadvertent errors in a serial narrative” and to cover inconsistencies in the plot of a story. Comic book authors (and some film directors) are prone to use it.

I just learned this from Steven Titch’s article at Cincinnati’s Enquirer where he accuses cities of retconning to justify escalating costs of installing municipal wireless. He says the new retconned version is “all about improving emergency response and public safety.”

He uses Minneapolis as an example. Not unusual since there has been a kazillion articles on emergency response and our wireless system just after the 35W bridge disaster.

I’m afraid Titch is retconning the story of wireless in Minneapolis. The deal here was not based on cheap or free Internet for residents as he states. It was always about public safety, emergency response, and city services and communications. Wireless subscriptions for residents was always a secondary factor. That may be why it appears to many of us that a useful Wi-Fi network might just work here.

He goes on to pick at our subscriber numbers but doesn’t share all the facts:

After last week’s bridge disaster in Minneapolis, the city’s information technology department wasted no time in trumpeting the role the city’s muni wireless system had in handling emergency communications. Lost in all of this was the telling fact, reported almost offhandedly by ComputerWorld, that just 1,000 users were on the municipal system the day the bridge collapsed. This was on a warm summer Friday in a city of 383,000 and thousands more commuters and visitors.

Lost in this quote is the “telling fact” that only a portion of the network is finished. Full deployment is scheduled for December. At the time of the bridge disaster, only two or three neighborhoods had wireless available for purchase. (“Last week’s bridge disaster”? Can I nitpick? The article was dated Sept. 15; the bridge disaster was Aug. 1.) He could have checked the build-out schedule at the vendor’s site.

But who is the vendor? Titch says MetroFi. Oops. It’s US Internet, a local internet service provider.

I have been critical of the Minneapolis Wi-Fi build-out and I discussed the user numbers after the bridge fell and there was all the hype about emergency response. I was in favor of public ownership rather than private. And I know that the whole municipal wireless movement has been under fire lately with Earthlink and others pulling back.

But at the moment, it’s looking like our we’re getting the job done in Minneapolis and that the city council made a wise choice in signing on upfront as the anchor tenant of the system. Mr. Titch, there has been no retconning here.

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