Free wireless Internet in Loring Park?

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September 29, 2003 // UPDATED 11:05 am - April 30, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

A group of citizens works to cut the cord for Downtown computer users

A group of Internet enthusiasts have plans to create a wireless Loring Park -- a pioneering project that would let park users get online outdoors for free.

Loring Park resident Neal Krasnoff, and South Minneapolis residents Andrew Zimmer and Ben Nelson, members of the Twin Cities Wireless Users Group, plan to place equipment around the park's perimeter to serve as "access points" where wireless signals would be broadcast toward the park.

They'd like to test the project this fall and have it running next spring.

Project organizers plan free access that can reduce the costs linked with logging onto the Internet -- lowering the so-called "digital divide" that keeps lower-income people off the Web. "I like the social aspect of it," said Nelson, who studies political science at the University of Minnesota. "I like people using public space and the effect that has, and I like the idea of providing access to the Internet and helping take a small step toward closing the digital divide."

He added, "This is not about charging people. We want to do this service and provide it entirely free to anyone who wants to come out and do that. It's a totally noncommercial venture. It's just money out of our pocket we consider going to a good cause."

The dozen or so wireless gurus are spending a couple hundred dollars to try out the idea this fall. They hope to find an Internet service provider to donate service by spring, when they plan to launch the project.

Nelson said they have approached staff members at the Utne Reader at 1624 Harmon Place and officials with the Minneapolis Community and Technical College at 1501 Hennepin Ave. S. about placing the "access points" on their property.

"We can cover the park without ever going into the park," he said.

Multiple efforts The Loring Park project comes as the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is considering placing routers that receive and broadcast wireless signals atop the city's rec centers, which would potentially provide wireless access to everyone in the city.

John Erwin, a Park and Recreation Board commissioner, said he's looking for a business to donate infrastructure for the Park Board's project. In his plan, users would likely pay for the wireless service to maintain the network; they would signup for passwords at their neighborhood rec center.

The Park Board needs to hammer out those details, and the schedule for going wireless is unclear at this point, Erwin said.

Although Krasnoff and Nelson plan to "go live" with their wireless plan by spring, they said they would like to work with the city and don't intend to beat the Park Board to the punch if its wireless project begins first.

How would it work?

The Loring Park project would be similar to a wireless blanket over Bryant Park in New York City, organizers say.

Krasnoff said there would be four to five "access points" at the periphery of the park, aiming toward the center.

Dozens of people could surf the Web at the same time, Nelson said.

The wireless users' group is looking to have a service provider such as Qwest or Visi donate a "pipeline" to the Internet for the wireless project.

Some computers would automatically detect the network, while others might require some configuration to access it, Krasnoff said. Many new laptops come equipped with wireless capabilities. Users with older models can purchase wireless network cards for $30-$50.

Depending on the strength of the "access points," people sitting in neighboring Loring Park apartment buildings, coffee shops and restaurants might also be linked to the network.

Krasnoff said the group has targeted Loring Park as the trial site for the project because it's a high-use area with a lot of potential computer users.

"It would just be a cool thing to do," he said.