Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez's venture into establishing a citywide wireless network that could allow residents limited free access to the Web looks good on paper and might indeed function as he describes it.
But other cities that have made the leap into wireless fidelity, or wi-fi, have encountered pitfalls, and so we support the idea with a few reservations.
Mr. Perez launched the initial phase of the project last week in two pilot neighborhoods, Downtown and Blue Hills. Presumably, any computer or laptop in those neighborhoods equipped with a wireless card can now connect to the Internet.
The city is also selling 900 low-cost, wireless-ready computers to residents who complete training as part of Mr. Perez's commitment to quickly increase the percentage of Hartford households on the information highway.
Setting up the pilot program for a year will cost $1 million. Mr. Perez anticipates expanding the network to cover the entire city within three years at a total cost of $5.8 million.
Now here's the rub. City officials hope to pay for the build-out with revenues generated from the sale of wi-fi service. Although service will be free to residents for the first few months, after March 2007, only the first 20 hours of service each month will be free.
When their 20 hours are up, residents will be charged anywhere from $12 to $17 per month. Commuters will not receive free service. The plan thus assumes that the city's pricing will compete favorably with private cable and telecommunications firms, some of which are already selling Internet access in that price range.
City officials also hope to generate revenue from the sale of advertisements on the system, the details of which aren't clearly spelled out in their business plan.
Reliability is another concern. Although there are more than 300 municipal wireless networks in various stages of development nationwide, some have encountered difficulty in delivering a clear signal to computers.
Wi-fi is clearly the wave of the future. It frees people and businesses to use the technology in remarkably new ways, even chat with friends across the world, without being tied to desks. But there are still potential drawbacks to overcome.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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