[Chtechcomm] From today's DTH

Terri Buckner tbuckner at ibiblio.org
Fri Oct 7 10:52:17 EDT 2005

Leaders still downloading wireless plans

October 07, 2005

Soon cell phone users might not be the only ones worrying about how many 
bars they’re getting in Chapel Hill.

Since earlier this year, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership and the 
town’s department of information technology have been examining plans to 
build a free community-wide wireless Internet zone.

Now, it seems, they finally might be raising the bar.

Tuesday, the Chapel Hill information technology committee, which is 
responsible for making recommendations to the Town Council, held a 
special meeting to debate the initiative. “It’s a question of will 
(wireless Internet) be used successfully” said Brian Russell, a 
committee member.

The committee hopes to present a plan to the council before the Nov. 8 
elections. Many of this year’s candidates have included wireless goals 
in their platforms.

Gregg Gerdau, chairman of the committee, said the debate centers on how 
best to deploy and pay for the service and the best model.

Gerdau said that in Palo Alto, Calif., a community similar in size and 
demographics to Chapel Hill, wireless has brought a competitive 
advantage to area economics. “Wireless is a driver of business to 
downtown as opposed to going to a mall,” he said.

Some business owners, even those who already provide wireless Internet 
access to their customers, are on board with the plan.

“Lots of my regulars enjoy having the access and this would be even more 
convenience," said Steve Dorozenski, owner of Jack Sprat Cafe.

He said he wasn’t worried about losing a competitive advantage for his 
business if all downtown begins to offer wireless. Many of those 
businesses already might be at a disadvantage, as the town of Carrboro 
began offering free wireless to its downtown nearly a year ago.

But Carrboro’s success cannot be directly translated to Chapel Hill, 
officials have found. “Carrboro is a fairly low cost, simpler model,” 
said Liz Parham, executive director of the downtown partnership.

Gerdau also was complimentary of the Carrboro model but noted its 
constraints. “They were able to put up wireless Internet in downtown, at 
a reasonably small cost, but the geography is different,” he said.

Chapel Hill’s downtown is spread out, from Merritt Mill Road to the 
Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, and many different 
constituencies are under review as possible wireless access points, 
Parham said.

And it’s not even definite that the service would be provided only 
downtown. “We’re looking at how we integrate with local schools, the 
University, public access, churches and other geographic districts,” 
Gerdau said.

There are some in the community who think the underprivileged areas near 
downtown, such as the Northside and Pine Knolls communities, deserve 
special consideration because they historically have had an economic 
barrier to technology.

“Neighborhoods classically underserved by technology benefit 
tremendously by wireless,” said Gerdau.

Ultimately, adapting Chapel Hill for wireless access is a political 
issue, with the final decision coming down to the downtown partnership 
and the council. “There isn’t much for us to do except recommend that 
the town do something,” Gerdau said.

Once the committee decides the best choices, the partnership will move 
forward, Parham said.

“Once they decide the best application for wireless, we’ll know how to 
direct the next part.”

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