Oklahoma City officials mulling citywide wireless Internet network

Wednesday, October 26th 2005, 11:37 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma City officials are mulling the possibility of creating a citywide wireless Internet access network, Mayor Mick Cornett said.

The city currently is testing a citywide Wi-Fi network for police and public safety personnel and may add to that a public network. Wi-Fi stands for wireless fidelity, a technology that allows laptop computers and personal digital assistants to wirelessly access the Internet.

If created, the 620-square-mile network would be one of the world's largest for public access.

The necessary security technologies should be in place to consider installing a public access network by June 2006, Cornett said.

"We're not signing off on it," he said. "What we're doing is we're admitting the possibility is around the corner, and if it is, we want to be ready because it is a great economic development tool."

Cornett said the network would not put the city in competition with private providers but would partner with private companies to build and operate the network.

"Municipalities all across the country are dealing with this and trying to determine if Internet access is a utility or something you regulate through the private sector," Cornett said. "It's always my preference that the private sector do it."

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce said it has issued requests for information regarding installation and operation of a wireless network in targeted areas of the city.

"We wish to partner with rather than compete," said Roy Williams, president and chief executive officer of the chamber. "Our ultimate goal is to create one of the most effective, widespread wireless Internet access networks in the nation."

Chamber officials said the potential Wi-Fi District could include Oklahoma City's Central Business District and priority visitor areas, such as Bricktown, Deep Deuce, the Oklahoma River, Stockyards City and State Fair Park.

"We're just trying to find out what's the viability out there, what's the interest out there, and then we will see whether or not we want to go for proposals," Williams said.

SBC Communications and Cox Communications are two of the city's largest Internet service providers, and neither indicated opposition to the proposed city-owned network.

"We look forward to reviewing the request for information, and I'm sure we will provide a response," SBC spokesman Andy Morgan said. "We certainly support initiatives that advance the image of Oklahoma City as a progressive city where technology is welcomed and encouraged."

Cox Communications spokesman Tim Tippit declined to comment on the proposal Tuesday.

Cornett said the city wants to be among the nation's leaders in offering wireless access but should move cautiously before choosing any wireless technology.

"I don't want to rush something to market and find out a year later there is something bigger, better and cheaper," he said. "The first one out of the box with this type of technology is likely to be the first one out of date down the line."

Officials did not discuss possible costs to access the city's potential wireless network.