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Wi-Fi a 'Hot’ Topic for City Officials

12/12/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Sensing an economic- development incentive — and a way to save cash that’s now spent with telecom vendors — many cities are moving wireless fidelity from the conceptual stage to the front burner.

Commissioners in Dayton, Ohio, in late November approved a Wi-Fi test in part of the city’s downtown.

The 182,000-resident community is striving to become a “hot city,” according to public comments from commissioners and a statement from the city department of public affairs.

Officials want to provide wireless Internet access in all public streets, parks and other green spaces.

The test bed is supposed to be fully operational by the end of March. The Wi-Fi model doesn’t require taxpayer funding or any sort of charge to end users, officials said.

1-MILE FOOTPRINT

Dayton’s partner in the test is HarborLink Network, a wholly owned division of Ohio-based R.B. Tangeman Co. Initial service will be offered in one square mile of downtown, including the main business district and a tourist area called RiverScape.

The service won’t compete against existing wireless providers that handle business and residential customers, officials said. The Wi-Fi platform will be advertiser-supported.

Should the test prove successful, the city will issue a request for proposals for a permanent provider.

Time Warner Cable provides landline high-speed Internet access in Dayton. Company spokesman Mark Harrad said system officials know about the city’s initiative from press coverage. Local executives have scheduled a January meeting with Dayton officials about Wi-Fi, he said.

“Our understanding is it will be of primary benefit to visitors,” said Harrad, adding that it shouldn’t really compete with cable’s landline product.

Other major cities are also supporting wireless systems.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has promised to move the entire city into the wireless age. It presently has a test bed in the Union Square area.

In Los Angeles, a committee is being formed (including telephone company and cable system representatives) to generate a report by next April discussing the benefits of Wi-Fi .

FRACAS IN PHILLY

Plans for a wireless system in Philadelphia became a huge issue in a debate over a recent Pennsylvania utility-reform bill. The city opposed House Bill 30, requiring statewide infrastructure upgrades by local exchange carriers, because it included a ban on municipal overbuilds.

Local cities were mollified when amendments moved the ban’s effective date to 2006. Also, the bill’s main backer, Verizon Communications Inc., wrote a letter vowing it would not block the Philadelphia Wi-Fi project or insist on being a commercial partner in it.

Like Dayton, cities believe Wi-Fi has money-saving applications such as automated meter reading, automated vehicle location and improved public safety communications. Wi-Fi availability gives a municipality an innovative, tech-friendly image, Dayton noted in announcing the test.

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