New Orleans to get free wi-fi

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announced that, as of today, the Business District and the French Quarter are covered by free WiFi network, the first of its kind to be owned and operated by a major city. The rest of the city will gradually get wired over the next year.

The gist of the ABC News article is that the move is intended to boost the city's economy, but Information Week emphasized how the network will provide crucial support to future disaster responses in the city.


"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," said Mayor C. Ray Nagin in a statement.
During the height of the hurricane's destruction, a dramatic broadband moment occurred when existing telephone and cell phone services were disabled and the White House was able contact city officials over a broadband link using Vonage VoIP technology. Satellite phones were operating during the hurricane, but many of them failed when their power supplies ran out of power.
The example that immediately comes to mind was Michael Barnett's diary/blog/reporting from the heart of New Orleans immediately after the hurricane hit. The blog, MGNO.com, quickly became a go-to site for breaking information from the city when all the reliable channels either failed or failed to tell the real story.

New Orleans' community WiFi network is also a big victory in the war to free the internet from the telecom giants who have been fighting to make fat profits off of what is fast becoming a basic public necessity.

Adam Penenberg scanned the horizon of this battlefield in a recent Slate article. He writes:
Companies like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and SBC don't want citywide wireless broadband because they'd much prefer the wireless market to look like the cell-phone market. [...]
If you want wireless broadband, you may have to subscribe to a local phone service or accept a slew of services you don't want. And even if the country is blanketed with wireless, you might have to pay roaming charges to access competitors' networks. In the end, you'll probably end up paying more than with muni broadband, not to mention that emergency responders crossing from one network to another won't be able to communicate as efficiently.
Penenberg cites how "Verizon lobbyists helped draft Pennsylvania's anti-wireless statute in 2004," which gave the company veto power over Philadelphia's WiFi deal with EarthLink.

Among the many other egregious examples of lawmakers catering to Big Telecom's bottom, Penenberg mentions Pete Sessions, a former SBC executive, who "introduced a bill in the House of Representatives earlier this year that would prohibit state and local governments from offering telecommunications services unless the area wasn't being served by a private company."

Free Press has a handy map of all the community internet networks in the country, which you can also sort to see which ones are privately owned or municipal.

New Orleans is just the latest in a recent series of municipal WiFi plans. Tucson, Ariz., and Temecula, Calif. announced WiFi networks two weeks ago; Google offered to provide free wireless to San Francisco in October; and in May, three companies turned Seattle's Space Needle into an enormous WiFi antenna.
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