New Orleans chomping at the bit for free Wi-Fi

The new and improved Wi-Fi network that Earthlink will help New Orleans roll out is desparately needed in a city still reeling from last year's hurricanes. The current free service is hardly working.

The new and improved Wi-Fi network that Earthlink will help New Orleans roll out is desparately needed in a city still reeling from last year's hurricanes, as a new hurricane season approaches, Wired News reports.

The current free service, created by the city despite opposition by BellSouth, is hardly working, some residents report.

"Everyone thinks the free service is working, somewhere," Andrea Thornton, marketing manager of New Orleans' Hotel Monteleone, said. "We're just not exactly sure where."

New Orleans' Chief Technology Officer Greg Meffert said a thousand people use the system, which runs on donated equipment at 512 Kbps -- faster than dialup but not as speedy as broadband.

But Joe Laura, owner of local internet provider Superior Wireless, is not so sure. ... "The city is making it sound like everyone can have free access," he said. "But with New Orleans the way it is right now, we have problems even helping an RV park with full connectivity." Laura does not think the problem is unique to New Orleans. Other cities are struggling, too. "Hooking up an entire city with free Wi-Fi access is just not logistically possible, especially with the state our city is in."

Residents are pretty anxious for better coverage. WIST has been bombarded with callers asking for info about coverage and availability.

Most small-business owners remain displaced since Katrina. Of 25 companies approached from the New Orleans online Yellow Pages, only a handful replied. Many people still live in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers, stay with friends or family, or have moved away. For those who have stayed, wireless internet access would be a huge help, said web designer Sherri Henne.

"Seeing where New Orleans first was, it was a miracle we even got this free service up. From here it will be very nice to get the professionals in," Meffert said.

"What better way to bolster internet advertising and bring together families torn apart?" said Henne, the web designer. "If ever there's a city that needed free wireless, it's New Orleans."

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