Metro-Fi trying to fix Foster City 'dead zones' 

For better or worse, a citywide free Wi-Fi Internet signal has enabled Foster City residents to take their e-mail, homework and digital assistants just about anywhere they go.

But in the six months since MetroFi "cut the wire" and turned on their network, they’ve only managed to reach approximately 60 percent of the city, falling short of their goal of 95 percent coverage.

Administrative Services Director Steve Toler discussed that issue at Tuesday night’s Information Technology Advisory Committee meeting. He said the city talks with MetroFi almost weekly regarding the service, and the provider has been working hard to ramp up the Wi-Fi system.

"It’s good to see them being so responsive to our complaints," Toler said.

But even without ubiquitous coverage, MetroFi reported more than 13,000 individual uses of their service in March alone, at an average of two hours per session.

MetroFi service is available to users for $19.99 a month or in a free format supported by advertisements. If users use the free service, part of their browser is used to run advertisements from local companies.

Ten-year Foster City resident Art Asuncion says MetroFi gives him a reliable backup when his kids are using their network for Internet gaming, or in case of a loss of service from his home router.

Toler said the city is looking into using it for Public Works crews as a means of filing inspection reports and survey results on the road, and he said he has used the service himself while watching his kids play Little League baseball.

The service problems are caused byboth the layout of homes in Foster City and the geography of the city itself, says Toler.

MetroFi pays the city $36 per year for each of their 120 access point transmitters. But because some of Foster City’s light poles — where the transmitters are placed — are owned by homeowners’ associations on private property, they aren’t covered in the city’s contract with the provider.

MetroFi spokeswoman Denise Graab said the company is currently working to expand their network into those coverage "dead zones."

Mirroring a problem faced by cellular phone providers in the city, Toler said the lagoons that wind through town may be causing some trouble, because the water can scatter signals and limit transmission.

Toler said the city is also hoping that with MetroFi in place, customers will benefit from competition when the Wireless Silicon Valley project reaches Foster City. The provider, Metro Connect is testing their service in San Carlos and Palo Alto soon.

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