City launches Downtown Wi-Fi, offering two free hours of access daily
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From the stands at Heinz Field to the steps at Point State Park to the front porches of the Crawford-Roberts neighborhood, laptop owners are now a few clicks away from free, wireless, outdoor Internet service.Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, left, and Michael Edwards, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, look at a laptop connected to the Wi-Fi network. "This really puts Pittsburgh on the cutting edge of technology," said Mr. Ravenstahl.
Click photo for larger image.
Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, US Wireless Online and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl launched Wi-Fi service Downtown and around the city's sports venues. Dialing in under the City-County Building's portico, they brought to fruition an effort touted by the late Mayor Bob O'Connor in April.
The city's new Wi-Fi network is unique in the nation in that it covers a large, 90-block area, provides two hours of free access daily and allows users to surf at speeds comparable to a DSL modem, according to partnership Chief Executive Officer Michael Edwards.
"This really puts Pittsburgh on the cutting edge of technology," said Mr. Ravenstahl. "We have some Wi-Fi Pittsburgh shirts that we're going to take with us [today] to New York to show that Pittsburgh has something that that great city, and Manhattan, does not."
Mr. Ravenstahl is appearing on the "Late Show With David Letterman," which tapes in New York today, and meeting with that city's Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
To log in, anyone with a Wi-Fi transmitter or card needs only click on the wireless icon, then on "Viewable Wireless Networks," and then "Wi-Fi Pittsburgh" and "Connect." Users will go through a registration process and can use the system for as long as two hours free of charge.
For more time, higher speeds and better security, subscribers can pay $7.99 a day, $14.99 a month or $119.99 a year. The operator, US Wireless, makes money on subscriptions and ads.
Those prices are possible because local foundations kicked in $500,000 to build and market the system.
The partnership owns the 60 lamp post-mounted transceivers that transmit the Internet signals.
If US Wireless ever fails to operate the system, the partnership can hire another vendor.
US Wireless Executive Vice President Timothy J. Pisula said the system "is not something we expect to be wildly profitable."
But it meshes nicely with the company's core business of providing indoor Wi-Fi, he said.
The partnership views the service as a means of making Downtown more attractive to businesses.
"If you look at the central business district as a neighborhood, or even as a large office park, we have something no suburban park has," said Richard Beynon, president of Beynon & Co. Real Estate and vice chairman of the partnership's board.Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
Andy Lunique, 21, and Eric Johnson, 33, both students at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, check out the new wireless Internet service Downtown yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.
He said that when he's marketing Downtown property, he'll ask prospective buyers and tenants: "Can your employees take their laptops outside and have free access, or work during lunch without staying at their desks?" Downtown, they can.
US Wireless has provided 35 "gateways" to the nonprofit group Wireless Neighborhoods to extend Wi-Fi service to low-income residents inside schools, day care centers and other facilities within the Downtown area.
The city gets a new selling point -- just a handful of downtowns have any outdoor Wi-Fi systems -- plus four mobile transceivers for use in public safety vehicles.
City Councilman William Peduto characterized the Downtown system as a template for regionwide Wi-Fi. He said he's involved with a Carnegie Mellon University team that's studying how to broaden the system without using "artificial municipal boundaries as walls."
He said talks with nonprofit groups 3 Rivers Connect, the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Wireless Neighborhoods on expanding Wi-Fi continue.
The partnership is holding free Wi-Fi training sessions next week, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the following locations: Monday at 625 Liberty Ave., Tuesday at Mellon Square, Wednesday at PPG Place, Thursday at Market Square and Friday at Two Gateway Plaza.
First Published September 14, 2006 12:00 am