Curt Pringle, the mayor of Anaheim, cut a thick, blue cable with giant scissors in front of a solemn lunchtime crowd Thursday as this California city joined the growing list of American cities that have launched a citywide wireless Internet network.
Holding the cable's dangling ends were Garry Betty, CEO of EarthLink, which set up the network, and Ronald Sege, CEO of Tropos Networks, which provided the technology in the radio transmitters that have been mounted on light posts around the city.
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The day was special for EarthLink as well, Betty said. "Today we are embarking on an aggressive new chapter for our company, and Wi-Fi is one of the cornerstones," he said.
Anaheim is, but certainly not the last. EarthLink has signed on to provide , Philadelphia, New Orleans and five other cities with municipal Internet access.
Many of them are larger than the 49 square miles of Anaheim, which is to date the largest city in the U.S. to build a citywide network, even if only 10 square miles of the city has access to the network so far. EarthLink is taking it step by step, said company executives. The whole network should up by the end of this year.
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"This is going to change the way residents, government workers, visitors and businesses communicate at work and in their private life," said Donald Berryman, president of EarthLink Municipal Networks.
He expects 95 percent of the outdoor area and 90 percent of the indoor area of Anaheim to have access to the network, even if indoor use will require the use of signal-enhancing hardware.
Residents can sign up for $21.95 per month, and Anaheim's 20 million yearly visitors--attracted mainly by Disneyland--can sign up for shorter sessions.
No free service will be provided. The network is entirely subscription-funded. EarthLink expects 15,000 to 20,000 of the 340,000 residents to sign up for what it calls an "Open Access Model."
"We are opening a new chapter of broadband competition in the U.S.," said Betty, pointing to the fact that other Internet service providers will be allowed to sell access on the EarthLink network.
The company has so far signed up AOL, DirecTV and PeoplePC as partners.