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The Curious Tale of Raleigh’s Free Downtown Wi-Fi

Published April 14th, 2013

The company running Raleigh’s downtown free Wi-Fi went bankrupt last year — and forgot to tell the city, according to city staff.

The city lost $12,000 on the deal and has since been working to pick up the pieces.

Downtown Raleigh’s free wireless Internet network provides Internet access to anyone within its eight areas of coverage, and it is now accessed an average of more than 400 times per day.

Operated through a series of access points housed atop city roofs and parking garages, the network was first installed in 2009 by Wind Channel, a private vendor contracted by the city. The company was also hired to run and maintain the network, which it did until May 8, 2012.

On that day, a routine network outage led the city to discover that Wind Channel had closed shop and gone out of business — seemingly overnight. At this point, the company had already been paid in full for its 2012 maintenance contract: a total of $18,446.

“We were left just kind of holding the bag,” said Raul Yanez, a business relationships manager with Raleigh’s IT Department.

“Once they shut their doors,” he explained, “pretty much everything came to a screeching halt as far as support went.”

Yanez said the city was unable to contact anyone with either Wind Channel or its parent company, Airimba Wireless. At that point, the city’s IT Department was forced to step in and take control, integrating support and maintenance of the free Wi-Fi network in with those it already monitored.

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