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Wireless Web could aid disaster response: FCC commissioner touts Wi-Fi plan
[April 05, 2006]

Wireless Web could aid disaster response: FCC commissioner touts Wi-Fi plan

(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 5--Wireless Internet networks, like the one planned for the city of Milwaukee, could serve as a catalyst for economic expansion while also patching major holes in the country's homeland security system, government officials and business leaders said Tuesday.

Speakers at the ninth annual Midwestern Telecommunications and Technology Conference focused on the development of broadband wireless networks -- a hot issue in Milwaukee and other cities across the state and nation. Such networks are seen as stimulating educational and business opportunities.

Wireless technology also could help improve efficiencies in communication systems used in emergencies such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, said Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps, who participated in the conference at Marquette University's Alumni Memorial Union.

"Whether it is the wrath of terrorists or the wrath of nature, time is not on our side," Copps said.

Those events highlighted the need for more sophisticated systems so responders can communicate instantaneously with the proper agencies, said Copps, a Milwaukee native.

In the case of Katrina rescue workers, Copps said, "too often their efforts were hamstrung" the lack of effective communication tools that could provide instantaneous response.

The FCC is in the process of establishing a new bureau to address the role of telecommunications as it relates to homeland security and public safety, he said.

"None of this is going to happen with the 'business as usual' approach," Copps said. "There has to be a push behind (it), there has to be a constant sense of urgency . . . behind it."

Milwaukee is poised to be one of the first U.S. cities to have an all-encompassing Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity, network.

The Common Council in January approved a deal with Milwaukee-based Midwest Fiber Networks to build a citywide network at no cost to the city. The deal calls for the company to have a demonstration area west of downtown working within four months of when the firm finalizes its agreements, which it expects to occur this month, said Nik Ivancevic, a partner with the firm.

Such public-private partnerships are a smart way to address the challenges of building such networks, said Copps, who added that the deal shows that Milwaukee recognizes the need to keep the entire community connected.

Wireless "hot spots" -- parks and other areas where laptop users can receive a wireless signal -- can help police become more efficient because officers can spend more time gathering information in the field rather than in their offices, according to Dan Cusik, regional manager of wireless advanced technology for Cisco Systems Inc.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company has built Wi-Fi networks for police departments in Baltimore and Everett, Wash., that serve as a mobile office for police officers on the street.

Copps and others stressed the importance of making telecommunication technology accessible to people in all regions and income levels.

Milwaukee's deal with Midwest Fiber requires that the company establish a "digital divide" fund to be used for increasing low-income residents' access to the Wi-Fi system.

Citing research conducted the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which studies people's online habits, Mayor Tom Barrett said blacks are less likely to be online than whites, a gap he said needs to be bridged.

Because the system Midwest Fibers has agreed to build will cover the entire city, it will provide "untethered" access to all residents, said Randy Gschwind, chief information officer for the city.

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