Wi-Fi in Cleveland was a great plan (if we could only exclude the money part)

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Jimmy does his best impression of a 16-year-old girl. - Walter Novak
Jimmy does his best impression of a 16-year-old girl.

In his 2007 State of the City address, Mayor Frank Jackson announced a plan to bring wireless internet access to "all 77 square miles of the city . . . and begin bridging the digital divide that has adversely affected low-income communities." Hizzoner was effusive, declaring that "Cleveland will be recognized as a city of technology."

Even cooler: Though the project was expected to cost $100 million, residents wouldn't pay a dime.

But a year later, you may have noticed that Cleveland doesn't have universal access. Which naturally leads to the question: Did City Hall blow it again?

In so many words, yes. But this time, it's someone else's fault.

At the time of the speech, Cleveland was jumping on a trend that had internet providers — mostly EarthLink — rigging cities with a wireless cloud that would be discounted in some areas and free in others. Cleveland would sign a contract promising that the provider would recoup its investment through monopolized subscriptions. If the provider fell short of making back that $100 million, the city would be on the hook for the rest.

When Cleveland jumped in the game, EarthLink had completed similar deals with Anaheim and New Orleans, and was in the planning stages with Philly and San Francisco.

Alas, EarthLink — a company on the verge of collapse — soon realized this wasn't a very lucrative concept. It scrapped plans with Philly, San Fran, and a score of other cities. Cleveland was left in the lurch.

"We hit that market bubble just when it was bursting," says Cleveland's Chief Financial Officer Sharon Dumas. "It was really a case of timing that killed that project model."

Today, this city is going forward with an anorexic version of the project. It hopes to contract with multiple providers to wire vital neighborhoods like University Circle, the Cleveland Clinic area, the Case Western Reserve campus, and downtown.

But this plan largely targets the moneyed set, since it's hard to convince providers to invest $50-70 million in neighborhoods where the largest industry is the stolen plumbing fixtures trade.

Dumas hopes to convince providers to "go out some miles from the core to get some of the poor neighborhoods." But given the economy, we best not get Little Juan from Clark-Fulton too excited about surfing for Lucha Libre podcasts anytime soon.

Victim Dimora
Last week, Jimmy Dimora threw two Plain Dealer reporters out of a Cuyahoga County commissioners meeting. It may end up being his greatest contribution to Cleveland.

Reporters Mark Puente and Henry Gomez arrived to question Dimora about the hiring of Rosemary Vinci, a former strip-club manager who's paid $48,000 annually to do purportedly important stuff for the three commissioners and Auditor Frank Russo.

But this being Cuyahoga County, no one seems to know what Vinci does. Commissioners Tim Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones say they've never even met her.

It looked suspiciously like Russo and Dimora were parking someone's girlfriend on the county payroll. Not surprising, since the county's main function is to serve as a job repository for the friends and family of Democratic Party officials.

But when The PD asked about Vinci, Dimora busted out a display of abject suffering and victimology not seen since a 16-year-old girl from Orange was denied use of the family minivan on a Friday night.

He railed endlessly against apparent slights committed by The PD, intimated that he might be the victim of an anti-Italian plot, and even pretended that the mild-mannered reporters were ruthless SS interrogators. "You have the right to shackle me and put me under the lights?" (Yes, he actually said this.)

Naturally, he never got around to explaining why a strip-club manager is on the county payroll.

It was classic Dimora, offended to be questioned once again about why he's wasting The People's Money. When he eventually gets to heaven, St. Peter will make him eat at the children's table.

But there's an upside to this. The Plain Dealer may have finally recognized Dimora for what he is: A pox on our land.

Last week, Scene ran a parody of the Candyland game called Cleveland — "Where the last guy to go broke wins!" It took us less than a half-hour to recall 20 multimillion-dollar incidents of waste and corruption that occurred on Dimora's watch.

In any other city, the local daily would have used him as an ever-replenished munitions dump for its annual Pulitzer ambitions. But The PD has largely treated the pols it covers as members of the same country club, as if it's fearful that Jimmy will no longer invite the paper to join his foursome.

Thankfully, Dimora never realized how good he had it. Here's hoping last week's tantrum roused the giant. In the Poorest City in America™, we need our biggest news organizations front and center, leading the fight against Jimmy's plague.

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