Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wi-Fi Unplugged

The City of New Orleans will pull the plug on its citywide wireless network as it is replaced with a network provide by a private ISP.

The wireless network that is run by the city for citizens will be taken down to avoid overlap between the two systems, said Mark Kurt, the city's director of information technology.

"Once EarthLink has deployed their network, we will remove our equipment, and redeploy elsewhere as the situation warrants. The other wireless networks that have been set up by the city for temporary facilities and public safety will continue to be operated by the city as long as they are necessary and funding is available," Kurt said.

EarthLink intends on providing wireless service to 20 square miles of the city, in the Garden District, Central Business District, French Quarter and Algiers, by the end of the year, said Clifton Roscoe, EarthLink general manager for New Orleans.

Having both the city and EarthLink systems running in the same spots might cause interference, Roscoe said.

The Atlanta-based company began constructing a wireless system in New Orleans in September by starting to install its access points. Next, individual radios will be installed around the city. Once the system is running, it will be turned on, but EarthLink won't necessarily announce that the system is up until the entire project is complete, said Deisha Galberth, a spokeswoman for EarthLink.

The free service, which is faster than dial-up access but slower than other high-speed Internet options, will be provided as long as the city rebuilds, according to EarthLink. The company has said it hopes to profit from the deal by selling higher-speed wireless service to those who want it. It also plans to continue building out the system if there is demand for it outside the original 20 square miles.

The city's small Wi-Fi network in the Central Business District and a portion of the French Quarter, which was started just after Hurricane Katrina, enabled businesses that no longer have offices to operate out of coffee shops, restaurants and bars in the days and months after the storm when there were few communications options available.

Not everyone is happy with the city providing this service.

But, the city's efforts were opposed by other Internet service providers who said the city was essentially taking business away from them.

The have a point. The companies made a not insigficant investement to provide their technology only the have the government use taxpayer money to compete with them.

Now, while the city will contract with a private company to provide this service is a good thing, at least in the short term, I have reservations about the city creating what will amount to a monopoly and stiffling incentive to create competition which drives advancements in technology while keeping costs down.

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