MASON CITY — After delaying a decision for two weeks, the City Council in Mason City last night approved a proposal that would provide free public wireless internet access in the downtown area while at the same time would deploy technology downtown to improve public safety.
The “SAFEcity Solution” utilizes a system that includes gunshot detection, license plate readers, video cameras as well as a wireless guardian that sees devices that emit radio waves for communications. The cost of implementing the “SAFEcity Solution” would be offset by the free wifi “SMARTcity Solution”, which would generate an estimated $500,000 annually in advertising revenue to the city.
Police Chief Jeff Brinkley and City Administrator Aaron Burnett have been working on the proposal for about six months and presented it to the council for their consideration at their May 3rd meeting, but some on the council expressed concerns since they had just found out the details of the proposal a few days earlier.
One addition to the proposal was the establishment of a council liaison to the police department in regards to technology. Burnett says this will provide a more dedicated oversight role for the council with respect to the utilization of technology and law enforcement and its deployment in Mason City. “Obviously as we look at what the chief refers to as force multipliers, the ability for the department to be more effective with the staff they have, technology plays an important role in that, and obviously as the council has talked about in consideration two weeks ago, we need to make sure that there’s that oversight role. This kind of combines those two in making sure that communication can flow freely back and forth.”
Councilman John Lee says two weeks ago, he was a tentative yes for the proposal, but wanted to hear more from the public. Lee says the public’s response was positive. “Most of them were in support of this, questions but supportive. I think I only got one email that was very much adamantly against it, but for the most part, as I talked with people, I became more adamant that this is something we need. Obviously in the last two weeks even we’ve had some issues arise, and we all know about those, and kind of reiterates what we’re looking for and what we’re looking to do.”
Joshua Masson was one of the councilmen concerned about the plan but approved it last night. He was still skeptical about the potential revenue coming into the city from the wifi ads. “I think the calculations for the ad revenue are very overgenerous, but even if it does end up costing us, I still think it’s worth it with all the productions put in place, but I, for the record, I’m a little skeptical of the ad revenue generation, the amount.”
The council approved the proposal on a unanimous 6-0 vote.