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WiFi to the rescue

EarthLink has contracts in eight U.S. cities to provide municipal WiFi service, including hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. Although the network will not be ready until early September, local officials say that they have every intention to make the WiFi system a central component of the city's law enforcement, emergency, first response, and business continuity plans in the city. In other cities, too, the push for muni-WiFi has been supported in part as a means to make more efficient the communication among emergency crews and between these crews and the central office, but in hurricane-susceptible New Orleans the push to provide emergency units with better means of communication has an added urgency. 

One of the first things to break down during Hurricane Katrina was the region's communication system: The storm knocked down relay towers, tore up communication cables, flooded switch board bunkers and cable closets and more. For a while after the storm, the only communication available to rescue units in along the Gulf Coast was satellite communication.

There are tensions accompanying the New Orleans deployment (the city's CIO even threatened that he was ready to go to jail over the issue): EarthLink will be offering free service at 300 Kbps and for-fee service at 1 Mbps. The issue of speed is important here--and has deterred other potential providers--because Louisiana state law limits the transmission speed cities may provide on city-operated network (it has to do with fair competition). Public safety services, however, insist on higher speed for greater usefulness and reliability of their communication system. New Orleans's The Times-Picayune recently reported that in parallel to EarthLink's 300 Kbps service, the city will continue to operate its 512 Kbps service, hoping the state legislature will pass a law allowing it to do so. 

For more on New Orleans WiFi:
- read this Bayou Buzz report
- and Glenn Fleishman's WiFi Netnews report
- as well as this March 2006 Red Herring report

MORE: Downtown Pittsburgh has also enjoyed WiFi for a while, but the system has limits, and businesses and residents have began to complain. Report

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