According to InformationWeek last week, AT&T Inc. has received approval to build its first Wi-Fi network to provide free high-speed wireless Internet access throughout the city of Riverside, Calif., for a cost that some estimate at $8.8 million. The city will receive more than 1,000 access devices mounted on buildings and polls across 80-square miles. Construction on the network will begin shortly. Service options will follow in early 2007.
AT&T will support the free service by selling advertising space on the Web home page for the free wireless network. The telecommunication giant also will sell several package plans, including daily and monthly, giving users an option to connect to the Internet at higher speeds. A local Internet service provider will also have an option to sell access to the network.
At the other side of the states, Boston's effort to deploy a citywide Wi-Fi network is beginning to take shape. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino lit two hotspots this week and then announced that work on a demonstration hotspot for citywide access is underway.
Boston's approach is unique among major U.S. cities in that its model relies on a non-profit organization to oversee the rollout of the network. The non-profit plans to build the network and make it available to ISPs. The city expects subscriber prices for the service to be as low as $10 a month. Working on different sections of Boston's Wi-Fi access are Verizon Communications, Cisco Systems and other service providers.
Many cities want to provide municipal WiFi to residents. Initially companies like AT&T and Verizon resisted deploying the technology, fearing such deployment would take away their business in wireless data access. I guess they finally realize the advertisement potential of such medium and that if they don't act, companies like Google, IBM and Cisco will. This is certainly welcoming news in bringing low/no cost internet access for everyone and in bridging the digital divide.