[Chtechcomm] From today's DTH
tbuckner at ibiblio.org
Fri Oct 7 10:52:17 EDT 2005
Leaders still downloading wireless plans
BY DANIEL WALKER
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
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,
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,”
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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