Wireless expert blasts
New Orleans plan

By WND Staff

A strong advocate of free wireless networks believes, nevertheless, Mayor Ray Nagin’s plan for New Orleans is a “reckless” use of government funds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Nagin announced Tuesday the launch of the nation’s first free wireless Internet network owned and run by a major city. The mayor said the system, which began operation in the central business district and French Quarter, would benefit residents and businesses still unable to restore service after the hurricane. The plan is to make the service available to the entire city within a year.

But Scott Lewis, co-founder of MetroFreeFi.com, a global directory of free wireless access, estimates Nagin’s plan will consume an estimated $27 million, according to industry research, while citizens’ needs for basic necessities remain unmet.

Lewis noted that in a meeting with New Orleans citizens Tuesday evening, one woman complained of being cold due to power and natural gas outages.

“Yet, Nagin, armed with millions of federal dollars, has irresponsibly ignored his citizens’ cries for help,” Lewis said.

Chris Drake, a project manager in Nagin’s office of technology, argues the network is needed because “we have a lot of people who need to roam throughout the city.”

But Lewis says Nagin “should not be surprised if his lavish free wireless plan is met with outrage by the 70,000 households in New Orleans who do not have access to basic necessities, such as heating.”

Lewis argues that rather than helping the homeless and people trying to rebuild their lives, Nagin’s project “targets people who need to surf the Internet while driving or sitting in cafes.”

Building such a network, he says, will require installing thousands of transmitters atop lampposts or power poles. According to the New York-based analyst firm JupiterResearch, the average cost of building and maintaining a municipal wireless network is $150,000 per square mile over five years.

Lewis said some may argue corporate donations will offset the $27 million price tag. But companies, including Intel and Tropos Networks, have contributed only a small fraction, by donating $1 million in equipment and Internet service.

“Even if companies donated all of the equipment necessary for installation, the majority of the burden including operating costs would lie in the hands of city officials,” Lewis said.

Another drawback, he said, is that Louisiana law requires Internet service such as the one Nagin is pushing to be at 128 Kbps – just over two times faster than a dialup connection speed.

Lewis said Nagin’s decision is bad stewardship, comparing it to a father buying a BMW when his children are starving.

“Free wireless Internet is a wonderful gift to a flourishing community,” Lewis concluded. “Pre-hurricane New Orleans was ripe for such a solution; in fact many American cities including San Francisco and Philadelphia are currently perusing similar projects. However, in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin’s decision to redirect desperately needed federal relief dollars into a $27 million luxury is irresponsible at best.”


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