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Wi-Fi Internet gains momentum in Tyler, Texas, area
[November 27, 2006]

Wi-Fi Internet gains momentum in Tyler, Texas, area


(Tyler Morning Telegraph (TX) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Nov. 26--Imagine being able to access the Internet without plugging anything in, or connecting to a network without running cables all over your house.

Many people are connecting their computers inside their homes wirelessly now, using wireless cards and wireless routers. But imagine being able to connect to the Internet wirelessly -- without cable or a phone jack -- anywhere in Smith County.



Phil Burks, chairman of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce's Technology Committee, said although the city of Tyler has made strides to provide the public with free, wireless Internet access at some of is public facilities, consumers often have no option other than a hard wire connection to access the Web at home.

And high-speed Internet access is unavailable to some areas outside Tyler city limits.


That is something about which the Technology Committee wishes to effect change, although Burks acknowledges minds are not changed overnight.

"It's a convenient, fast way to get high-speed, broadband connectivity out in the county," he said.

Burks said he approached the city and area builders last year about finding ways to make Tyler "a really, really connected city, get us to where just anywhere in the city anybody could have anything."

The idea, however, did not gain a lot of traction.

The city already provides free Wi-Fi access at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, Harvey Convention Center and Tyler Public Library.

Burks said his idea for subdivision developers would be to establish a location for a small amount of equipment and a tower, perhaps 60-80 feet high, depending on the topography.

"I don't see the subdivision builders actually getting in that business, but if they can just provide a place, then some party could come in that says, 'I'll provide the service, and we'll cut the homeowners' association in for a piece of this,'" he said. "That doesn't just provide e-mail and Internet access, but you can set these things up -- they call them neighborhood Wi-Fis -- where the entire subdivision, when they log in they see a Web page for that subdivision."

Burks said although the ideas did not appear to get much farther than his presentation, they were at least an opportunity for him, the city and the home builders to talk about Wi-Fi and perhaps start some people thinking differently about wireless Internet access.

Although rural residents with telephone service can get dial-up Internet service, the high-speed Internet access that Wi-Fi would provide is unavailable to many of them. Many are also in areas not served by broadband cable or DSL.

"One of our whole goals here is to try to get high-speed connectivity out into the county, because as new subdivisions are being built, they're not being built within the city limits; they're typically being built outside, where there is limited connectivity right now," Burks said.

In a setting where Wi-Fi is installed to serve a neighborhood, subscribers would pay a monthly fee to an Internet service provider. An encryption code would be shared with everybody in the community, and everybody would have his or her own account.

The set-up would be secure to prevent one person from hacking into his neighbor's files, which is something to which Burks said people with wireless home systems need to take heed.

Wi-Fi inside an individual's home needs to be encrypted to prevent anyone other than that person from using the signal beaming from the wireless router. If the encryption is not activated, someone nearby with a wireless card could access the individual's files or simply get free access to the Internet.

"They send them to you wide open, but one of the first things everybody should do is turn on the encryption," Burks said.

One company, perhaps best known for its cell phone service, last week announced it had initiated wireless access in the Tyler area.

Sheryl Sellaway, Verizon spokeswoman, said the company introduced broadband access in 2003. On Monday it began wireless broadband service -- Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) network in East Texas, including Tyler, Whitehouse, Noonday, Longview, Kilgore and Lakeport.

"We've expanded along the way (since 2003)," Ms. Sellaway said. "Tyler is certainly a part of that, and we've been very strategic in making sure that we expand our coverage in places where people want and need the service."

In Texas, Ms. Sellaway said, Verizon has covered all of the major cities and many smaller markets with EV-DO.

"We go into Sherman, Dennison, College Station, Port Arthur, the Rio Grande Valley," she said.

Burks said not only does the community need greater access to wireless service; it needs education about the service. That is why this year, as part of a Technology Committee initiative, he will talk to middle school and high school students about technology, including Wi-Fi.

"These kids are going to be living with this stuff as they grow up," he said.

Businesses that are "Wi-Fi hot spots," or places where people can connect wirelessly to the Internet, apparently must see a monetary benefit from having the access, even if they do not charge for it.

Burks said he would not have any quarrel with paying a few dollars for Wi-Fi as he enjoys a cup of coffee or a bite to eat.

According to a PC WORLD online list, Tyler has 16 hot spots, not including the areas provided by the city or the areas announced last week by Verizon.

To see more of the Tyler Morning Telegraph, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.tylerpaper.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, Tyler Morning Telegraph, Texas
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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