Raleigh approves downtown WiFi plan

May 19, 2009 1:02:56 PM PDT
It's no secret that downtown Raleigh gets its share of high profile, publically funded projects. City Plaza, which is still under construction, the convention center and the Marriott Hotel, which was subsidized with $20 million in tax payer money, are some of those projects.

The latest idea isn't one that is so obvious to the eye. Some city leaders want you to be able to Google while in Moore Square.

Specifically, they want to bring WiFi or wireless Internet access to downtown Raleigh.

"The downtown wireless is something a number of cities are now offering," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker explained. "It's one of those things the creative class tends to have. It'll be throughout the downtown area."

The network would cover major public spaces in the area bordered by south, west, Morgan and Person Streets.

While the WiFi would be free to users, getting it established and maintaining it would cost $112,000 and that makes some people critical of the idea.

On Tuesday, the council approved the WiFi implementation in a 6 to 1 vote. Raleigh City Council Member Philip Isley was the only member to vote against it.

"WiFi's great," Isley said. "Certainly everybody wants to have it wherever they go. But right now for the city to be investing that kind of infrastructure in this budget season is a little bit premature."

Isley calls WiFi a luxury, not a necessity. He wonders is a corporate sponsor might back WiFi in the way Cree paid for the convention center's shimmer wall.

But Mayor Meeker has a different take.

"Money is very tight and we have to be careful with it," Meeker said. "This is the kind of service people expect in an urban area. This is what helps make us competitive and really be successful, particularly as we come of out this recession."

Meeker says eventually WiFi will be brought to other areas like North Hills and Crabtree Valley.

The city would use an $86,000 credit it has from Cisco to purchase much of the equipment for downtown WiFi. That's in addition to other costs.


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