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Central Ohio cities move into WI-FI market

Across the county cities are moving to offer wireless internet access to their residents and businesses.

Philadelphia and Minneapolis are among the cities entering the WI-FI market. Here in central Ohio, three cities are launching pilot programs of differing sizes.

The communities see WI-FI as a service to attract business and improve life for their residents. Some traditional internet service providers see municipal WI-FI as unfair competition

Picturesque Old Worthington with its century old buildings brick sidewalks and village green is home to a new technology you cannot see. This historic spot is now a hot spot for wireless internet service.

The city of Worthington has allowed a private company to set up small antennas on traffic light poles. Signals sent from those antennas allow laptop computer users sitting outside along a one mile stretch High Street to access the internet.

Worthington assistant city manager Paul Feldman says the system is a low risk way for the city to offer a public service.

It's almost like water and sewer for us. It's a way to open that door for the city of Worthington.

Grove City soon will install the same system covering a three block area in its town center. The networks are run by a company called Harbor Link, which also has a one-square mile hot spot in its home city of Dayton. Harbor Link does not charge cities to set up the small wi-fi networks. The company does not pay the cities for access. Harbor Link earns revenue thorough ads seen websurfers on its wireless network. Harbor Link President Rick Tangeman calls the arrangement a perfect partnership between cities and wireless providers.

It's something cities can use to attract shoppers and businesses to their area and also we get to do what we do. It's a win win if you will, Tangeman says

The City of Dublin is going a step further than Worthington and Grove City. Dublin officials estimate the city will pay about a half million dollars to a local company to set up a town-wide wireless network that first will be used by police officers fire crews. And other city workers. Others will also be able to log on at the city's recreation center and nearby Coffman Park.

Dublin officials also hope to use the system to attract businesses to the city.. and while she says it is not an immediate goal, City Manager Jane Brautigam says the system eventually could be available city-wide.

It may go to the neighborhoods eventually but that will depend on the service provider and what their long term goals are.

A company called DHB will set up and run the wireless network and Dublin will basically lease a certain amount of bandwidth. DHB president Dave Haimbaugh hopes to to build a wireless network available to all Dublin companies and homes- earning revenue through subscriptions and advertising.

Dublin is a visionary city and we are extremely excited about being a partner with them as they work to become a leader in this field, he said.

Some oppose that vision. They say cities and towns should leave Wi-Fi soley to the private sector. The Ohio Cable Telecommunications Association which lobbies for cable tv and broadband internet companies does not like the idea of municipal wi-fi. Its president, Ed Kozelek, says such systems are government subsidized competition for private firms and says city leaders should stick to other services

If I were a municipality I would want to make sure the police are well funded, the fire trucks are all in good working order that the streets are not in disrepair.. before getting into proving services already provided by the private sector, he says.

Kozlek says it's unfair for cities which regulate cable internet service providers to enter into contracts with competing companies.

And he says private companies will do a better job than government running the system and keeping up with technology changes.

What are you going to do about maintenance or upgrades or when the next best technology comes out that leap-frogs this and you are stuck with this system that nobody uses.

Dublin Assistant City Manager Greg Dunn says Dublin will not complete with private companies. The city asked companies to bid on the contract; in fact one of the losing bidders was Time Warner Cable. Dunn says in essence Dublin will be a large customer of private company.

Dublin will not be a phone company. Dublin will not be an internet service provider.

Dublin, Worthington and Grove City are among some 300 cities nationwide looking to launch WI-FI networks.