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Riverside to offer free Web access

The city hopes tech- savvy residents and a business-friendly setting will help lure firms.

July 11, 2007|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

Riverside on Tuesday launched a free wireless Internet network that will eventually cover the entire city -- a move designed to help Riverside become a more tech-savvy, business-friendly community.

The announcement that all city residents would soon enjoy free wireless Internet access came outside City Hall, and followed a successful two-month limited launch and trial of the WiFi network.

Riverside joins about 300 cities across the nation that have provided citywide wireless networks for residents and businesses. Many charge monthly fees to go online with free access only in isolated hotspots, but Riverside will offer free citywide broadband Internet access.

Riverside resident Robert Whiting, 48, went downtown Tuesday morning with his laptop to test the new network.

"I think it's going to be awesome," Whiting said. "They don't really have the word out yet, but when they do, I think a lot of people will get enthusiastic about it."

AT&T will build the network for residents, as well as a second, separate network for city business and public safety communications.

City workers will use their network for the remote operation of ball field lights as well as water pumps and valves, which will save city staff time as well as electricity.

The wireless network will also give Riverside police officers speedier access to criminal tracking information while in the field and enable them to transmit live video from patrol car cameras to headquarters.

Currently, free wireless access for residents is available in only three areas -- downtown Riverside, Hunter Technology Park and Adams Auto Center.

But officials expect that by next March, the network should be complete across the developed portion of the city, covering 55 square miles, said city spokesman Steve Reneker.

Internet users will be offered access options. Users who tap into the free service will see a 1 1/2-inch advertising bar running across the top of their Web browser.

The free service offers users speeds up to 512 Kbps, or about 10 times faster than dial-up. Speeds up to 1 Mbps will be offered for about $8 per day; or $16 for one week.

"It's very convenient and it's free," said Carlos Sanchez, 35, a wireless technician from Riverside. "In the last month, I've probably used it 60 or 70 times to work, surf the Internet , check e-mail."

The city's wireless network rollout coincides with city efforts to build a computer-literate community.

Since November, the city has provided 600 low-income families with basic computer training and a refurbished city computer, Reneker said. Most of the computers were equipped with modems. But once the citywide wireless network is set up, city officials intend to swap the modems for wireless transmitters, he said.

By nurturing a computer-savvy population, city leaders hope to boost Riverside's reputation among technology companies looking for new cities in which to do business, said Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge.

"This is really a statement about the city being ready for the 21st century and having the technology ready for the new economy," Loveridge said.

Darren Conkerite, owner of the Back to the Grind Espresso Bar and Cafe on University Avenue in downtown Riverside, already offers free wireless to customers -- and says he's not worried about competition from the city.

"It's been a tremendous draw," said Conkerite, 41.

"Giving someone anything for free is wonderful," said Conkerite.

"I'm not knocking it, but I still feel that instead of being outside they're going to come down to Back to the Grind where it's a great atmosphere and where they know they'll still get same high speed Internet they have at their house."

Whiting, who surfs the Internet daily via a dial-up connection, couldn't wait for the city's network to be finished.

"It makes the city kind of cool and cutting-edge," he said. "I think a lot of other cities are going to be really jealous."

sara.lin@latimes.com

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