And Wireless Fidelity For All

by | Oct 6, 2005

Swamp Fox: The city of Charleston is drawing up a contract with Mount Pleasant-based Widespread Access to blanket the peninsula with a wireless Internet network in an effort to boost economic development and increase computer literacy in poor households.

Evening Post Publishing Co., which owns The Post and Courier and 22 other media outlets, will provide the network’s content, essentially a home page including links to area news articles, weather reports and restaurants.

“Hopefully, it will drive readership, but it’s also important to show that Charleston can be a technological base,” said Charles Bauman, chief information and technology officer for Evening Post. “This is totally different from news.”

Widespread Access and Evening Post started talking with the city in May and eventually formed a company, Access LLC, to bid on the business. The city put out a request for proposals June 8 and collected two bids by the June 28 deadline.

“These services are being provided in Bangalore, India; they certainly ought to be provided in Charleston, South Carolina,” said Ernest Andrade, director of the city’s efforts to recruit technology companies.

The Charleston Wi-Fi plan, like similar projects nationwide, has come under fire from telephone and cable companies that say municipal Internet services unfairly compete with them and undermine private-sector investment.

The city and bidding companies said the criticism is unfounded, because Charleston is not subsidizing the project.

“This is just a business plan put together by two companies,” Bauman said. “It’s going to provide services that the phone companies and the cable companies weren’t providing, and for a good price — that being free.”

Andrade said that the Charleston public Wi-Fi network will be the first in the nation supported by a media company.

If the Charleston project goes as planned, Evening Post will try to set up similar networks in the other communities where it does business. The company owns 23 media outlets, including newspapers in South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas; TV stations in California, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana and Texas; and a daily English-language newspaper in Buenos Aires.