City-wide wireless Internet

Shouldn’t every city have this?

Anyone with a laptop computer equipped for wireless access will be able to connect to the Internet from virtually anywhere in the city with the purchase of a $21-per-month account. The wireless connection will be free in two dozen designated zones …

EarthLink also will provide discounted accounts of $9.95 per month to 2,700 low-income city residents…. the city hopes to find interested residents by partnering with community agencies that already work with low-income residents.

The city council of Alexandria, Virginia, approved a proposal to allow EarthLink to “construct and maintain the network at no cost to the city.” The plan is expected to win final approval later this month.

Building the network will be relatively easy: About 500 devices the size of breadboxes will be installed, mostly on street lights, but also on traffic signals, poles and roofs.

“They’re very unobtrusive,” [Craig T. Fifer, Alexandria’s e-government manager] said. “Most people won’t even notice the construction.”

EarthLink is hoping to recover its $2.7 million capital investment and to make money by selling accounts.

This sounds fantastic to me, but I have to wonder if the city has any protection against EarthLink hiking up the prices as soon as the residents of Alexandria get comfortable with their city-wide wireless access.

That’s what happened with cable television in the U.S. — monopoly service providers, grossly inflated pricing, no public access channels, and finally, lousy service.

Source: “No Wires, No Plugs: Just Access by WiFi,” by Jerry Markon, The Washington Post, Dec. 7, 2006, p. VA03

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