tampabay.com

Wireless network in the works for St. Petersburg

By Aaron Sharockman
Published February 14, 2007


City officials are close to finalizing a seven-year agreement to blanket St. Petersburg with a wireless Internet network.

The system would enable computer users with the proper equipment to access the Internet from anywhere within the city limits.

The service, which could become available before the end of the year, is becoming increasingly common in major U.S. cities. Governments can pitch the low-cost, high-speed computer access as an added amenity.

City Council members on Thursday are poised to select an Atlanta company, EarthLink, to provide the city's network.

The company would build the system at no cost to the city; residents who use the service would pay a monthly or hourly fee.

A basic subscription would cost about $21.95 a month. Computer users would have to have a wireless card in their computers in order to use the service.

As part of the agreement, EarthLink said it would consider making certain government and not-for-profit Web sites free to all customers. The company may also provide free wireless access in 20 city parks and other public spaces, such as City Hall.

The wireless system will cost the company about $6.3-million to build and install, and an additional $2.5-million for operation and maintenance.

Officials from EarthLink declined to comment Tuesday.

The company maintains or is building wireless networks in Atlanta, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Anaheim, among other cities. It has more than 5.4-million customers nationwide, it says.

By 2011, the potential North American market for municipal wireless services could reach $10- billion, according to the wireless research firm ON World.

Officials say it will take about six months to construct St. Petersburg's network.