Wireless Aspen a slow-speed endeavor
ASPEN The study of a citywide wireless network for Internet users hardly qualifies as a high-speed endeavor, but it will take a small step forward next month when responses to a request for information from potential providers are due.Talk of citywide, wireless connectivity – even extending into portions of unincorporated Pitkin County – surfaced last year, but Aspenites won’t be unplugging anytime soon.What began as talk of providing wireless “hot spots” – nodes of wireless connections at spots around the downtown core – has broadened into a communitywide focus. While the eventual outcome could be wireless Internet connections virtually anywhere in town, nothing is imminent, according to Paul Menter, city finance director and the man with oversight over the joint city/county Information Systems Department. “This is one of those typical things where a good idea becomes a huge project,” he said. “We’re trying to move slowly, so we develop a business model and approach that meets the most needs of the most folks in Aspen and Pitkin County.”Last month, the city and county issued a request for information and comment on a countywide, broadband wireless system. Responses are due March 20.The Technology Resource Committee, comprising city and county staff, will review the anticipated responses from wireless providers and consultants. The input is expected to address the strategic, technological and financial implications of deploying a wireless network.The next step could be seeking city and county direction to issue a formal request for proposals or negotiating with one of the respondents to the information request to set up a wireless network. Some avenue to seek public input is likely, as well, Menter said. If the city, county, or both are financially involved in setting up a system, a public vote could be necessary, he added.Communities across the country are taking the wireless plunge; Vail recently implemented broadband wireless, partnering with CenturyTel, a company that has approached Aspen about providing the same technology here, Menter said.”We’ve been approached by vendors who’ve offered to install the whole thing for free,” he said.Communitywide wireless networks are an emerging industry in which vendors are looking to gain market share – hence their willingness to install the technology for free. Internet usage rates presumably make the package attractive to providers. In Vail, the first hour of use is free; after that, Web surfers pay.A wireless system in Aspen would compete with existing providers of wireless connections to individuals and businesses, Menter acknowledged. Some homeowners, along with local hotels and other businesses, already have wireless Internet service; places like Zélé Café offer it free to their customers.For the time being, though, wireless browsing of the ‘Net from anywhere in town remains a Web surfer’s dream.The process of deciding what, if anything, to implement, will take at least another year, Menter estimated.”I should be hard-pressed to think the we’ll be eliminating the need for wired connectivity anytime soon,” he said. Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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