Fresno

Report: Free Wi-Fi on Fresno busses in doubt over cost

Fresno City Council is tabbed to reject all bids to install high-speed wireless internet on FAX buses because of long-term affordability concerns. 

The city received four proposals last December ranging from $68,000 to $190,000 to cover 18 FAX buses and two Bus Rapid Transit stations for a one-year test pilot. 

But city staff determined that the annual cost would run $18,000 for the 118-bus fleet, which is unsustainable. 

The city is looking into other approaches to provide bus riders with Wi-Fi. 

Discussions regarding adding Wi-Fi to Fresno’s bus fleet began in 2015 when the city received bids for construction in the BRT system, but the lowest bid was 16 percent over budget, so the Wi-Fi project was put on hold. 

Fresno City Council came back to the table in 2018 with a renewed interest in seeing Wi-Fi added to the buses and solicited bids last year. 

The estimated $180,000 annual cost to maintain the system did not cover expenses for design, network hardware onboard buses or deployed at BRT stations or annual service costs for Wi-Fi service at BRT stations. 

The least expensive of the four bids would have capped data at 22GB per month for each Wi-Fi access point and then throttle data, similar to how cellular carriers operate. 

“The anticipated user experience is questionable and would be subject to content filters and bandwidth restrictions to remain under the 22GB cap per access point,” the staff report reads. “For example, users would not be able to stream video.” 

Another factor leading city staff to direct the city council to reject the bids is the fact that the vast majority of FAX riders – 79 percent – already have access to the internet daily. 

Staff also noted that around 50 percent of FAX riders are between 18-34 years old, which is a demographic in which 93 percent of people own a smart phone. 

Add that to the California LifeLine Program – which offers free smartphones with an unlimited data plan for adults who meet certain income qualifications, and city staff felt comfortable turning down the bids. 

“FAX can reasonably conclude that free internet access is already available to our ridership in a form that is not only more convenient, but also not limited to fixed hotspot on a bus or at a station,” the report reads.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.