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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Dor Hamabul or Rewards of Sin (II) ???

New Orleans Starts
Free Wireless Network
Associated Press

November 30, 2005; Page D4

NEW ORLEANS -- To help boost its stalled economy, hurricane-ravaged New Orleans is offering the nation's first free wireless Internet network owned and run by a major city.

Mayor Ray Nagin said Tuesday the system would benefit residents and small businesses who still can't get their Internet service restored over the city's washed-out telephone network, while showing the nation "that we are building New Orleans back."

The system started operation Tuesday in the central business district and French Quarter. The plan is to make it available throughout the city in about a year.

Similar projects in other cities have met with stiff opposition from phone and cable TV companies, which have poured money into legislative bills aimed at blocking competition from government agencies -- including a state law in Louisiana that needed to be sidestepped for the New Orleans project.

The city had been working on a Wi-Fi network before Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, and police already were using the wireless system to monitor street security cameras.

Mr. Nagin said the storm, which knocked out communications throughout the region, frustrating coordination of relief efforts, showed the need for a more-advanced system.

In case of another storm, the network will be able to connect telephone calls via the Internet.

"What we learned is a network like this is important as a backup in case all other communications fail," the mayor said.

The system uses hardware mounted on street lights. Most of the $1 million in equipment was donated by three companies: Intel Corp., Tropos Networks Inc. and Pronto Networks. The companies also plan to donate equipment for the citywide expansion.

The network uses "mesh" technology to pass the wireless signal from pole to pole rather than each Wi-Fi transmitter being plugged directly into a physical network cable. That way, laptop users will be able to connect even in areas where the traditional phone network will take time to restore.

The system will provide download speeds of 512 kilobits per second as long as the city remains under a state of emergency. But the bandwidth will be slowed to 128 kilobits in accordance with a limit set by Louisiana law when the city's state of emergency is lifted, though the service will remain free for residents and businesses.

Phone and cable TV companies have opposed attempts at creating new taxpayer-owned Internet utilities.

But David Grabert, a spokesman for Cox Communications, a major cable TV and high-speed Internet provider in the New Orleans area, said the Atlanta-based company welcomes the competition.

"This is a relatively slow-speed service, and we don't look at it, at this point, as major competition for our high-speed service," Mr. Grabert said. "We're ready to compete with all comers."

Many cities have partnered with private companies to build and operate their networks. Philadelphia, for example, is developing a citywide system that will be run by Earthlink Inc., unlike the New Orleans owned-and-operated system.

Mr. Nagin, who was Cox's top executive in New Orleans before his election in 2002, said the city system would be "just one of several options" residents would have to get Internet service.

Copyright © 2005 Associated Press

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