Proposal for citywide wireless Internet aborted

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration has shelved an effort to extend wireless Internet access to computer users citywide.

A request issued in August for ideas from companies in the Wi-Fi field yielded just one valid response, said City Information Systems Director Howard Stern. Chicago-based Diamond Management and Technology Consultants was willing to consult with the city on ways to get wireless coverage from the West End to East Hills.

But two other firms suggested systems that would have cost the city millions of dollars. That was outside of the scope of the city's request for concepts, and convinced administrators that the time was not right to plunge into the wireless market.

"We're going to hold off and see where the markets go in the next few months, or six months, or one year," said Mr. Stern. "This market changes like we change socks."

The decision to back-burner the push for citywide Wi-Fi comes as companies withdraw from the market. Whereas providers were once offering to build systems for free, cities are now balking at multimillion-dollar price tags.

A wait-and-see posture "is prudent," Councilman William Peduto, the body's point man on wireless technology, said yesterday. "Cellular [Internet] is already coming out with systems that would probably be affordable" for a citywide deployment.

Private Wi-Fi providers continue to operate in several neighborhoods, including Downtown, where the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has a network temporarily run by Bloomfield-based aspStation Inc. The partnership is trying to finalize a contract with a long-term operator to replace bankrupt U.S. Wireless Online Inc.

"There's definitely a commitment on our part to keep this up and running Downtown," said partnership spokeswoman Hollie Plevyak.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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