Charleston Regional Development Alliance

Berkeley, Charleston & Dorchester Counties

Printed from www.crda.org

Charleston is going wireless

Sep. 1, 2005
Charleston Post and Courier
By Kyle Stock
The city of Charleston is drawing up a contract with Mount Pleasant-based Widespread Access to blanket the peninsula with a wireless Internet network in an effort to boost economic development and increase computer literacy in poor households.

Evening Post Publishing Co., which owns The Post and Courier and 22 other media outlets, will provide the network's content, essentially a home page including links to area news articles, weather reports and restaurants.

"Hopefully, it will drive readership, but it's also important to show that Charleston can be a technological base," said Charles Bauman, chief information and technology officer for Evening Post. "This is totally different from news."

Widespread Access and Evening Post started talking with the city in May and eventually formed a company, Access Charleston.com LLC, to bid on the business. The city put out a request for proposals June 8 and collected two bids by the June 28 deadline.

"These services are being provided in Bangalore, India; they certainly ought to be provided in Charleston, South Carolina," said Ernest Andrade, director of the city's efforts to recruit technology companies.

Andrade said the city will not collect or pay any money on the project. The winning bidders will pay close to $500,000 to get the system running, in exchange for a five-year contract with the city.

Both Widespread Access and Evening Post declined to say how much they will spend on the network. Widespread Access, however, plans to sell faster Internet connections to homes and businesses through the grid. And Evening Post hopes to increase advertising revenue and subscriptions via the city Wi-Fi.

"I'm sure we'll beg, borrow and steal from Charleston.net," the home page of The Post and Courier, Bauman said.

The Charleston Wi-Fi plan, like similar projects nationwide, has come under fire from telephone and cable companies that say municipal Internet services unfairly compete with them and undermine private-sector investment.

When news of the city's project broke, Comcast Corp., the dominant local cable provider, said the network would duplicate private-sector services. BellSouth Corp. declined to comment on the plan, although it had criticized a similar initiative in Columbia, saying it stranded private investment.

The city and bidding companies said the criticism is unfounded, because Charleston is not subsidizing the project.

"This is just a business plan put together by two companies," Bauman said. "It's going to provide services that the phone companies and the cable companies weren't providing, and for a good price -- that being free."

Despite the protests of for-profit companies, public Wi-Fi networks have popped up around the country as more municipalities decided that wireless Internet access, like trash collection and road construction, should be a public service.

Vanguard public Wi-Fi efforts came from Philadelphia and San Francisco. But recently, smaller communities like Roanoke, Va., and Plano, Texas, started putting up Wi-Fi networks. A free wireless Internet grid launched in Athens, Ga., last year. The network, which is accessed at www.athenscloud.com, is funded by an Internet service provider, a technology-focused nonprofit, the University of Georgia and the county government.

Andrade said that the Charleston public Wi-Fi network will be the first in the nation supported by a media company.

If the Charleston project goes as planned, Evening Post will try to set up similar networks in the other communities where it does business. The company owns 23 media outlets, including newspapers in South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas; TV stations in California, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana and Texas; and a daily English-language newspaper in Buenos Aires.
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