By MICHELLE ROBERTS, Associated Press Writer
Call it a municipal status symbol in the digital age: a city blanketed
by a wireless Internet network, accessible at competitive prices
throughout the town's homes, cafes, offices and parks.
Tempe, the Phoenix suburb that is home to Arizona State University, is
due to have wireless Internet available for all of its 160,000
residents in February, becoming the first city of its size in the
United States to have Wi-Fi throughout.
Tempe officials hope that by making high-speed Internet as accessible
as water or electricity across its 40 square miles, it will attract
more technology and biotech companies -- and the young, upwardly mobile
employees they bring.
An increasing number of the nation's cities are looking at using
Internet access as an economic development tool. Few cities have
gotten as far as installing systems, "but most cities are realizing
that it may be something that they want to do," said Cheryl Leanza,
legislative counsel for the National League of Cities.
Philadelphia is developing a citywide high-speed system with EarthLink
Inc. Unlike Philly or Tempe, New Orleans is building a free system,
though the network speed will be limited.
The Tempe network is being installed by NeoReach Wireless, a
subsidiary of Bethesda, Md.-based MobilePro Corp. Roughly 400 antenna
boxes mounted on light poles throughout the city will be used to
stitch together the network, to which NeoReach will sell access,
primarily through other providers.
The network uses a so-called "mesh" setup, meaning it passes wireless
signals from pole to pole and automatically reroutes transmissions if
one of the transmitters breaks down.
Speeds will vary depending on the number of users logged into the same
The network is strong enough only to be picked up outdoors or through
one wall, meaning those who want service in their businesses or homes
will need a box that serves as a signal booster and router.
The city of Tempe gave the company access to its light poles in
exchange for use of the network in transmitting data to and from city
offices and vehicles, said Karrie Rockwell, a spokeswoman for
Two hours of free access each day also will be available for Internet
users on the Arizona State campus or the nearby Mill Avenue retail
district, where the network began a year ago as a pilot project and
has proven popular.
Robert Jenkins, 50, sits at a coffee house on Mill Avenue a couple of
times a week with his laptop, downloading larger files that take too
long at home when he uses his mobile phone to access the Internet.
NeoReach will directly sell service to outdoor users for $3.95 per
hour or $29.95 per month. The resellers of NeoReach access have not
yet announced pricing, but Rockwell said it will be cheaper than DSL
or cable Internet access. Cable operator Cox Communications
Inc. charges $49.95 per month for customers who don't get Cox phone or
TV service. Qwest Communications International Inc. charges $44.99 and
$54.99 per month, depending on the speed.
Tempe signed a contract with NeoReach after asking for bids -- which
prevented it from having to start its own utility and probably quelled
potential objections to the city's involvement in a Wi-Fi network.
Elsewhere in the nation, cities have run into heavy resistance from
telecom companies, which argue that the free market should dictate the
cost and availability of service.
At least 14 states have passed laws limiting municipal Internet
service, and other states are expected to consider similar limits,
Leanza said. Arizona does not have such a law.
On the Net:
City of Tempe: http://www.tempe.gov
NeoReach Wireless: http://www.neoreach.com
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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