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Our View – Possible free Wi-Fi in L.A. under debate

Imagine walking around the roughly 500 miles that is Los Angeles, laptop in hand, knowing that anywhere you went, in any quaint little coffee shop or café, wireless Internet would be available. And on top of that – it would be free. To the typical college kid, this seems like a dream come true. To others, like Internet providers, it’s a nightmare.

According to a Feb. 19 article in the Los Angeles Times, this will be a reality by 2009. Just last week, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced his plans for a citywide Wi-Fi system, which would be installed by 2009. And we’re not the only city to be catching on to this techie trend. More than 300 municipalities across the nation are planning or operating a Wi-Fi service in their area.

In Los Angeles, Villaraigosa spoke about a broad outline that would call for a public/private partnership, where companies would pay the installation and operating costs. But building the uber-complicated system would cost more than $60 million, which means this plan better work. And not everyone thinks it will.

According to the article, Charles Golbin, an analyst at Forrester Research, “That’s a lot of territory to cover in two years. We’ve had cellular networks here for years, and many people will be happy to tell you they don’t have cell phone service yet.”

There are many technical difficulties surrounding such an ambitious project, especially in a vast city like Los Angeles. The technical problems include issues like hilly terrain and tall buildings.

In Lompoc, Calif., a city-owned Internet project struggled for years to start up because equipment and software didn’t work properly. They had to actually increase the number of antennas in certain areas and lower their position on light poles. This was done to limit interference from cordless phones and other gadgets. That just goes to show whomever’s building this giant new network has his work cut out for him.

Not only that, but Earthlink, an Internet service provider, is proposing its own wireless Internet service for a fee of $21.99 a month, with speed three times faster than Google’s free one.

Which would you choose? Many people have already made up their mind. Ralf Muehlen is a software developer and he said that the free service is “so 1997. I’m a techie. It’s too slow for me.” Others disagree, claiming the service isn’t for techie’s but for the large percent of the population with no Internet access at all.

With Google up against Earthlink and the many technical difficulties this type of task generates, it appears it will be a while before anything tangible is created. Still, it’s nice to know our neighboring city and our state is understanding what’s important to us. Wi-Fi would be a huge step up, not just for college students, but the population in general.

What do you think? Would you rather have slow, free Internet or a fast, expensive one? It’s a tough call for some. For others it’s simple: the cheaper, the better. So let’s applaud the people who created this project and let’s hope it does proceed despite the many hurdles it may encounter along the way.

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