Let’s be a hot spot 

On Aug. 8, I called Traci L. Morgan, the new director of Little Rock’s Information Technology Department, to ask her if she intended to provide low-cost Wi-Fi access throughout the entire city. She said she didn’t know yet. It was her first day on the job, and I had ambushed her. But I hope she can understand my enthusiasm. Wi-Fi stands for “wireless fidelity” (it is also a registered trademark), and it allows someone with a Wi-Fi-enabled computer to surf the internet, share files and send e-mail without a physical connection to a broadband network. Why would a city want to make itself a “hot spot,” the term for a location where one can pick up a Wi-Fi signal? There are plenty of good reasons, beginning with the fact that access to the internet is increasingly becoming a fundamental part of how we learn, communicate, do business, and live our lives. It is no longer merely a source of entertainment that we can leave in the unregulated hands of private enterprise. It is closer to a utility, like telephone service, that everyone needs, regardless of income. Cities around the nation, like Philadelphia and Portland, Ore., are realizing this, and they are implementing plans to offer citywide Wi-Fi coverage to consumers at about half the current rates. Private companies that provide such services for profit are aggressively trying to beat back such efforts, going so far as to get a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate that would limit the ability of local governments to establish public Wi-Fi systems. That is why municipalities like Little Rock should take action sooner rather than later. Internet access is relatively expensive — if it is even available — for people who live in a poor state like Arkansas. Wi-Fi especially has been slow to come to us, because private companies have less incentive to invest in the equipment and manpower it would take to set up the infrastructure in our urban and rural areas. It’s not that it costs a lot to set up a Wi-Fi network. Our local governments could get it done with a minimal outlay. But a private outfit doesn’t stand to gain many paying customers where the median income is among the lowest in the nation. With cheap Wi-Fi provided by a city like Little Rock, the cost of owning a computer is reduced, which helps both residents and businesses. Plus it sends a signal that the city is on the cutting edge of technology. In fact, Arkansas could turn its lack of technology infrastructure to its advantage by adopting Wi-Fi initiatives across the state, just as Europe and Asia have done with cellular telephone networks. For years, those continents suffered from bad communication systems, because countries there could not afford the infrastructure necessary to provide telephone service to all of their citizens. However, the new cellular grid was cheaper, because governments could build transmission towers instead of laying wire to every home and business. As a result, these nations quickly transitioned to cell phones, far outpacing the U.S., where our good landline infrastructure reduced the need and demand for the more advanced technology. If you visit Europe and Asia today, you will find that their cellular networks and equipment are much better than ours. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently observed: “I began thinking about this after watching the Japanese use cellphones and laptops to get on the Internet from speeding bullet trains and subways deep underground. But the last straw was when I couldn’t get cellphone service while visiting IBM headquarters in Armonk, N.Y.” We know that Wi-Fi, like the cell phone, is eventually going to become a fundamental part of our infrastructure. Like the Europeans and Asians before us, Arkansans don’t have cheap and efficient broadband systems in the first place. So why don’t we just make the leap to municipal Wi-Fi and get ahead of the curve? One Arkansas city is at least making strides in this area. In April, Searcy become the first city in the nation to offer free Wi-Fi access in its parks. The money for the project is coming from donations, mostly from local banks. When the city council there approved the program, city clerk Tammy Gowen told the Searcy Daily Citizen, “We’re hoping it will target Searcy as trying to be progressive so that other industries will look at us and want to move here.” That’s the right idea. Now it is time for Little Rock and other places in Arkansas to provide the resources our citizens need to be educated, innovative and competitive in this new century.

Sign up for the Daily Update email


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Warwick Sabin

  • Helena's disappearing buildings

    Preservationists hope to slow demolitions.
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Trailers headed to Dumas

    Gov. Mike Beebe issued the following statement earlier today: Although this decision by FEMA to deny emergency funds to Desha County defies common sense, Arkansas will take care of its own people.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • Youth Ranch robbed, vandalized

    According to a press release we just received: The Donald W. Reynolds Campus of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranches (The Ranch) located near Fort Smith was vandalized overnight Thursday.  Items stolen during the break-in included all of the children’s saddles, food, tools and supplies from The Ranch’s carpentry shop and all equipment from its auto shop.  An investigation is underway with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • More »

Latest in Warwick Sabin

  • Trickle-up theory

    Through thick and thin, there has always been one group of dedicated Americans whose support for President George W. Bush has been unwavering: The wealthy.
    • Mar 8, 2007
  • Time to go

    Tough questions face us in Iraq and it's time to confront them directly.
    • Mar 1, 2007
  • Plugged in

    One reason why the South remained solidly Democratic during the mid-20th century was the enduring gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who brought electricity to the poor, rural parts of the region. According to one historical account, “Althou
    • Feb 22, 2007
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Redefining candidate quality

    Despite what national party organizations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Campaign Committee say, conventional definitions of candidate quality are not leading to progressive wins in 2018.
  • Stormy shaming

    Can we talk about Stormy Daniels? More specifically, can we talk about how we talk about Stormy Daniels?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Trump and Comey

    • Oh, so now it was the Comey release of the e-mails before the election to…

    • on April 19, 2018
  • Re: Stormy shaming

    • Ms. Daniels is a female version of Trump. Someone with a valuable talent for making…

    • on April 19, 2018
  • Re: Stormy shaming

    • I do not automatically have contempt for women who have careers built around selling sex…

    • on April 19, 2018

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation