Thursday, May 24, 2007

Downtown Digital Debate

The Fayetteville Telecommunication Board has for sometime been interested in exploring free public Wi-Fi (wireless internet connectivity) in the city. The Board is merely advisory and often ignored, as in its futile efforts to get the city to sign a better franchise agreement with Cox Cable, but they could have more success with this idea.

The announcement that Bentonville will be offering such a public service around its public square and downtown park seems to have caught the attention of Fayetteville city officials. The Northwest Arkansas Times reports today that Mayor Dan Coody, who often urges Fayetteville to do just like whatever happens in Benton County, said he has asked city staff and administration to look at Bentonville’s lead. “We at least need to do something like that,” he said. It would allow more downtown residents to read The Mayor Dan Coody Campaign Blog hosted on the city’s official website, even if citizens cannot post comments or responses to the Mayor’s blog entries.

Not everyone thinks that free public Wi-Fi service would be a good idea. Alderman Bobby Ferrell says the city doesn’t have a good record with technology projects, and he wasn’t talking about the massive cost overruns with the new sewer plant. “I would sure want us to do a lot of fact-finding and research before going citywide with Wi-Fi,” Ferrell said. Alderman Ferrell is a former Southwestern Bell /AT&T executive, and AT&T markets and sells internet services in Fayetteville. Free public Wi-Fi could reduce revenue for private internet service providers.

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