New Orleans to deploy free wireless Net system
By Jonathan Krim, The Washington Post  |  November 29, 2005

Hurricane-ravaged New Orleans will deploy the nation's first municipally
owned wireless Internet system that will be free for all users, part of an
effort to jump-start recovery by making living and doing business in the
city as attractive as possible.

The system, which Mayor C. Ray Nagin is scheduled to disclose at a news
conference today, also will be used by law enforcement and for an array of
city government functions, such as speeding approval of building permits.

Much of the equipment to run the network was donated by firms, but New
Orleans will own it and operate all its components at the outset. The
system, which uses devices mounted on streetlights to beam out fast
Internet connections for wireless-enabled computers, is scheduled to be
operational today in the central business district and the French Quarter
and to be expanded over time.

''Now, with a single step, city departments, businesses and private
citizens can access a tool that will help speed the rebuilding of New
Orleans as a better, safer and stronger city," Nagin said.

But the move probably will stir an already roiling national debate over
whether it makes sense for localities to launch their own systems.

Cities around the country are studying or have deployed ''wireless
fidelity," or WiFi, networks, because they often provide more affordable
Internet access than private carriers and can help bridge the digital
divide in low-income areas or because high-speed Internet access is not
provided by either telephone or cable companies.

Telephone and cable companies oppose the moves as unfair taxpayer-funded
competition and have successfully lobbied several states to prohibit or
restrict the networks.

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