Feb 052012
 

NEWS-LEDGER — JAN 25, 2012 –

Evidently, the Internet is not a fad.

Americans, like those in much of the rest of the world, are getting more and more entwined in the world wide web as the years go by. They use the web not only from desktop computers at home, but while on the road with their laptops, smartphones, tablet computers and other portable devices. They work, study, access music and photos, and communicate through the web.

But when you buy an Internet-compatible gizmo, it doesn’t just automatically come pre-loaded with the Internet inside: you have to have a connection to the web. A lot of people have Internet connections at home – it comes to their home by cable, phone line or satellite. But when on the road, a lot of people want – or need – a good Internet connection outside their homes. Often, they find it at coffee shops and such – usually, a wireless connection is available to paying customers, and requiring a password obtained from the proprietor. Your computer helps you connect to the invisible network streaming into the coffee shop, and you can surf the web all you want with no cables required.

  Some cities provide free wireless Internet connections in their downtown areas. It’s not expensive to provide connections in a limited area where a lot of people gather to work and play. Providing free access is meant to be friendly to businesspeople, shoppers and tourists who want to check their email or do something else on the Net, without a lot of hassle.

In 2005, Mayor Christopher Cabaldon of West Sacramento called for this city to join that crowd. He promised free wireless access in West Sacramento’s downtown business corridor, including a stretch of West Capitol Avenue.

The city installed some antennas at a cost of roughly $10,000 – a pretty small item in the city’s budget. Monthly charges to keep up the connection were negligible, beginning at about $60/month. But the free wireless never worked as well as it should, and except for a few lucky spots where connection was good, users found that connecting to the free service was tough or impossible.

So the question remains: is free wireless in key areas of West Sacramento worth doing right? Can it be used not only to make it easier to do business near city hall, but perhaps to serve shoppers, travelers, students and business people at other key parts of West Sacramento, like shopping centers?

The access promised by Mayor Cabaldon at his 2005 State of the City address never materialized. The city should plan to fix its public wireless access, or else admit the project was a failure and move on.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

Steve Marschke

Steve Marschke

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