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Riverside Seeks to Be the Latest Tech Hot Spot

October 20, 2006|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

Riverside has signed a deal with telecommunications giant AT&T to offer all city residents free wireless Internet access -- a move city leaders hope will help transform Riverside into a more business-friendly, tech-savvy city.

Riverside is the latest city -- others include Philadelphia and Anaheim -- to embrace a nationwide trend of creating citywide wireless internet access for residents and businesses. Many cities charge users monthly fees to go online, with free access only in isolated hotspots, but Riverside residents will be offered unlimited broadband Internet access at no cost.

The wireless deal, announced this week, is part of a three-pronged city initiative to nurture a more computer-literate community.

To reach its goal of getting a computer into every home by 2011, the city recently began providing low-income families refurbished city computers, basic computer training and free wireless Internet access.

"The idea was to try to be at the front of the parade in terms of technology," said Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge. The new wireless network helps make a "statement about where the city is, in terms of high technology and the new economy. I'm proud of it."

The city of about 300,000 is also upgrading the technology it uses for city business.

In the new wireless deal, AT&T will build a network for residents to access, as well as a second network for city business and public-safety communications.

The goal of Riverside's technology initiative is twofold. On the one hand, officials want to bridge the city's digital divide. City spokesman Steve Reneker estimated that there are 30,000 households with no computers or Internet access.

"We think we can overcome that in five years," he said.

Generating a computer-literate population also will help boost Riverside's reputation among technology companies looking for a new place to set up shop, he said.

City officials also hope that building a technologically "hip" city will help win appeal among the 40,000 students that attend colleges in the area.

"Hopefully they'll enjoy Riverside, prosper and become entrepreneurs that open businesses here," Reneker said.

Riverside's wireless network will be rolled out in phases. AT&T will install about 1,300 wireless access devices on traffic signals and lightpoles across the city.

Between January and March 2007, the company will set up a test area that includes 2 square miles near the Riverside Auto Center. By May 2008, the network should be complete across the developed portion of the city, covering 55 square miles, Reneker said.

Internet users will be offered various access options. Users who access the free service will see a 1-inch advertising bar running across the bottom of the computer screen. Higher-speed access will be offered for a fee.

Users who already have DSL accounts with AT&T will be able to access the higher-speed service at a discounted rate of about $8, said Carl Nerup, AT&T vice president for business development.

The city has committed to spending $2 million over five years in wireless use. It will cost AT&T $8.8 million to set up the network. The company will also refresh the technology every five years.

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