WiFi at City Hall — but no electricity

Pub date July 22, 2009
WriterTim Redmond
SectionPolitics Blog

By Tim Redmond

Okay, so we finally have WiFi at City Hall. This is something some of us have been talking about for years; at one point, Alex Clemens and I even offered to buy and install the routers ourselves. The first step is a pilot project, currently limited to the Board of Supervisors Chamber, but it’s a start. The wireless has unlimited bandwidth at 54G and sppeds of up to 10 megabits.

Only one problem: Unless you’re a reporter in the press box (which has limited space), there’s no way to plug in your laptop. And if you want to live-blog or post video from a board meeting, you’re going to run out of battery time –meetings often go for many more hours than even the best batteries can handle.

Kimo Crossman has asked about the possibility of using one of the electrical outlets in the room; here’s what he got back, from Nilka Julio, administrative deputy director for the board:

We strive to keep everyone safe, including minimizing tripping hazards for the public and employees.
We want to avoid any disruption for the Board, public and staff who attend the meetings and that includes, no one other than the Supervisors having access to the outlets in the well in the Board Chamber or Committee room or the press having access to the outlets in the press box.

Kimo’s response:

A simple policy change to the more contemporary- “all cords should be taped” usually solves the problem.

The SF Library has found this to be a reasonable compromise.

I encourage you to walk around the main branch and see how many people need to plug in their laptops for usage – also when they run on batteries the screens are dimmed to save power so readability goes down.

Look at all the people who plug in their laptops at SFO Airport

Why not try it? that is what Pilots are for – right? How many people are binging their laptops to BOS meetings anyhow?

I get Julio’s point — you can’t have cords running all over the floor. But there has to be a way to solve this, and an easy one comes to mind. The city can purchase a nice extension cord and a power strip (about $40 for the package at Cole Hardware, and I bet Kimo would split the cost with me if it’s too much for the cash-strapped city budget). Plug the cord into the wall, tape it down (I’ve got a full roll of gaffer’s tape I’ll donate to the cause) and set up an area at the back of the chambers where laptop users can plug in. The back row of seats would probably work fine.

Every political convention I’ve been to in the past five years has set aside an area on the floor for bloggers using this exact technique.

I was unable to reach Julio by phone this afternoon, but I’ll keep trying. A lot of things that government seeks to do are incredibly hard; this one’s incredibly easy.

And once we have that settled, we can work to get the WiFi extended to the Light Courts, where reporters work on Election Night.