Public Wi-Fi Fans Say Drop Me Off In Harlem

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The old Ella Fitzgerald song makes it pretty clear just where she'd like to be. Just drop her off in Harlem. Any place in Harlem. There's someone waiting there that makes it seem like Heaven, and in this case, that someone is Mr. Wi-Fi. Reports suggest that Mr. Wi-Fi is about to be very deeply entrenched in Harlem, as the area will be set to receive the biggest free public Wi-Fi system in the United States, measuring a staggering 95 blocks.

The initiative was recently announced by Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and once it's established the system will offer free Wi-Fi access in a four-stage process, with different sections of Harlem getting the access at varying times. The first phase is actually set to be completed before the ball drops on New Year's Eve, with the second phase set for completion in February and the third completed in May.

What's more, the Harlem project isn't the only source of free Wi-Fi to be had in New York City, either. Thirty different train stations have the service, and reports suggest that that will be expanded to “every train station” by 2016. Public parks are also big when it comes to Wi-Fi connections; at last report, most parks offer the connectivity.

While it's easy to be impressed by the sheer scope of the project—95 blocks is no mean feat, and would likely encompass some entire towns in terms of sheer square footage, though there's a difference in just how big a block is from one city to another—there are a few critical points that are missing in discussions of the service. For instance, what is the bandwidth rate? Is there a bandwidth cap? Granted, this is a free service, so complaining about speeds and caps may be a bit on the “ingrate” side, but it's still something worth knowing. After all, a service that's too slow, or has too narrow a cap to be useful may as well not be in place at all, a development that New York City taxpayers would probably prefer.

While it's certainly a good idea to get Internet access into as many places as possible—more numbers means more users, and more users means more potential customers as well as more potential vendors, which results in economic gain—it remains to be seen if the Harlem Wi-Fi project will have that kind of impact. But at the same time, it's a fairly safe bet that this project will have at least some kind of economic return. Why not? There are more people online, after all, so those people will want to buy stuff, and may even have some stuff to sell as well. Even if not everybody ends up joining the commercial rush, as long as some percentage does, the impact to the tax base could well end up positive, and make this a good move for New York City overall. The impact to the tourist trade is also hard to understate here, so too is the public relations value of such a maneuver.

While it may not be immediately profitable for New York City, or even profitable for some time, it's still likely to mean a profit at some point for the city, and even if that isn't ultimately the case, the sheer press value of everyone talking about it can't hurt either.




Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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