Citywide wireless access promises
Internet connections in your park and on your street corner.
It may even draw big business to your city. But no one knows
if it will live up to its hype.
JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING you could ever want to buy is for sale
at Philadelphia's Ninth Street Italian Market, a sprawling, shabby
chic assemblage of shops and outdoor stalls that's been in business
for a century. Fresh linguine? Sure. Prosciutto di Parma? Lots of
it. Pigs' feet and chicken feet? Yes and yes. Lingerie? Check.
Sporting goods. Got them. Diamonds? You bet.
Perhaps if you think for a year, you could imagine something not
for sale among the market's offerings. But by then, you'll be able
to stand on Ninth Street, whip out your
Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, hop on a wireless Internet connection, and
shop for whatever the market is lacking. That's the promise of a
$10 million city plan to turn Philadelphia into a giant hot spot of
wireless Internet access. If the project works - and success is not
certain - Philadelphia will be the first major U.S. city to build
what is known in geek-speak as a "Wi-Fi cloud." With cities
increasingly looking to technology to one-up each other in the
battle for business, tourism, and skilled workers, it likely won't
be the last.
"Cities all over America are envious of Philadelphia's head start
on this," said Mayor John F. Street when he announced the project
last summer. "They are working feverishly to catch up."
Forgiving the mayor his enthusiasm, "envious" and "feverishly" may
be overstating it. But major cities in the U.S. and abroad are
definitely interested in their own Wi-Fi clouds. Minneapolis,
Portland, Austin, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Chicago are all
considering projects to turn their communities into hot spots.
Overseas, both Taipei and Tokyo have already okayed construction on
separate projects, spending $70 million and $12 million