Fairpark may be new “hot spot” for wireless computers

n The district’s development agency is looking into providing the service.

By Emily Le Coz

Daily Journal

TUPELO – By next summer, laptop users could access free wireless Internet from anywhere in downtown’s Fairpark District, thanks to an initiative by the development’s overseers.

Members of the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency are considering a proposal from at least one Internet provider, Select Connect, and likely will consider others to create a “Wi-Fi” hotspot inside the 50-acre neighborhood.

“We’re moving toward a wireless downtown,” said TRA chairman Chris Rogers. “That’s what you’ve got when you to go larger cities. My son lives in Memphis and expects to just be able to open his laptop and work from wherever.”

Rogers said the question is more about when, rather than if, Fairpark will become a hotspot. He hopes to have it implemented by mid-2007.

Tupelo will follow the lead of a half dozen partially wireless Mississippi cities, including Southaven, which recently launched a nearly $806,000 project to create a 36-square-mile hotspot, according Pat Nelson, Entergy’s regional customer service manager. Entergy, an electricity provider, is collaborating with Southaven, as well as with other cities.

But Tupelo would start smaller, blanketing only a few square blocks with wireless access at a cost of a few thousand dollars. Later, the hotspot could expand with the addition of more signal routers.

How does it work?

Wi-Fi, which stands for wireless fidelity, uses radio waves to transmit data between a wireless computer and a wireless router. The router, which has a physical wired connection to the Internet, acts as middle man between the Internet and the wireless computer, according to the Web site, HowStuffWorks.com.

One router can handle several computer connections, and typically they are installed on buildings – or, in the case of Southaven, on utility poles. Chuck Moffatt, Select Connect manager, said blanketing Fairpark would require one or two routers.

Moffatt’s company already placed routers in several downtown sites although he declined to say where. Typically, however, such sites are owned by other companies that can charge for the use of those sites. That sometimes significantly raises the cost of installing Wi-Fi.

“There was one place with a water tower where we wanted to put our equipment, but they wanted us to pay $1,500 a month,” Moffatt said. “We can’t pay that. That puts it where it’s not feasible.”

Moffatt lauded the redevelopment agency’s initiative and said increasingly more people want wireless access. He said it would draw people to the neighborhood, which is home to City Hall and several residences and businesses.

“Parents can open their computer and work in the park while their children play,” Moffatt said. “Think about it. People want virtual offices.”

Contact Daily Journal city reporter Emily Le Coz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

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