Tallahassee considers taking over a pilot program offering free high-speed wireless access to the internet.
By Julie S. Bettinger
Rick Kearney had a "cool idea" late last year: Design a "digital canopy" around Tallahassee to provide free high-speed wireless access to the internet during the legislative session, when the city's population explodes with lobbyists, lawyers and legislators. Kearney, CEO of Mainline Information Systems, gathered a group of business partners who agreed to provide the services and equipment at no cost during the six-month pilot phase.
Kearney knew the project would be too expensive for one company to do alone profitably; structuring the deal as a volunteer partnership during the pilot stage would allow him to tap the resources of each of the partners that otherwise wouldn't have been available.
Kearney persuaded the city to let him use existing infrastructure -- stoplights and fiber-optic lines -- to host access points for the network's transmitters and antennas downtown.
In all, more than 25 government agencies and private companies joined in: The state agreed to let the network share its internet service; private companies -- mainly Cisco Systems and Enterasys Networks -- provided the hardware. Universities pitched in student labor to run the help desk; and the Seminole Tribe of Florida provided office space. The value of products and services donated: About $500,000.
Anybody with a PDA or laptop and a wireless card could register to use the network, which is based on the new 802.11 wireless protocol. "This is wireless on steroids," says Kearney. "You've heard of cell phone wireless networks -- this takes it to a whole new dimension." The network is said to be four to 12 times faster than any internet service available in the average home or office.
With the pilot phase over, the fate of the service is uncertain. Kearney's group can no longer count on donated equipment and services. The city of Tallahassee is considering taking over the network and is funding a $250,000 study to determine the feasibility of charging a fee for the service.
Gary Brinkworth, director of business development for Tallahassee's utility services, says he expects the commission to vote in October to either move forward with the service or step aside. But with all the equipment in place and the network operational already, he's confident the city will find a way to keep it. "The canopy is not going to go away," he says.
In the News
Alligator Point -- St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE) is buying the Pelican Bay Yacht Club & Marina from partners Robert Parrish, Jim Rudnick and Barry Poole. The development includes 29 town homes under construction, a private clubhouse, a ship store and a marina. St. Joe Arvida recently lost its bid to build a marina for its nearby SummerCamp development.
Crestview -- N.E.W. Customer Service Cos., a leading provider of extended service contracts and buyer-protection programs, has leased a 38,500-sq.-ft. facility in Okaloosa County's new Enterprise Zone. The company expects to hire 300 workers in the first six months and add another 200 in the near future.
Destin -- Destin-based Manufacturing Technology Inc. has partnered with an Indian tribe to provide up to 100 technology-based jobs on the Poarch Creek Indian Reservation in Atmore, Ala. The Muskogee Technology Joint Venture involves a five-year, $47-million contract from the U.S. Army Simulation and Training Command for electronic assembly and upgrade kits for tank simulators. In addition to jobs, the tribe will receive 51% of the joint venture's profits.
Floridatown -- Santa Rosa County's Floridatown has qualified to receive $3 million from the state and federal government to improve its stormwater drainage system. The homes of more than 2,000 residents have been flooded and damaged by sewage after heavy rains in recent years.
Fort Walton Beach -- Metric Systems Corp. was awarded a $6-million Department of Defense contract to develop an air combat training system to be used in the Middle East. Metric Systems will provide aircraft integration support and test certification work prior to delivery of the systems.
Niceville -- Titan Systems Corp., part of a global technology-solutions conglomerate, has bought BTG/Delta Research. Titan Systems is providing information systems support for Eglin Air Force Base.
Pensacola Beach -- A 114-room, 80-building resort called The Purple Parrot recently opened on Perdido Key. The resort features a 5,000-sq.-ft. tropical pool, an indoor pool and a tiki bar.
Tallahassee -- Florida State University added a $52-million, five-year grant to its existing contract with the U.S. Navy. The grant will allow FSU to purchase equipment needed to test propulsion systems in real time. Through its original contract, FSU established the $11-million, 80,000-sq.-ft. Center for Advanced Power Systems for creating the next generation of power systems for Navy ships.
Four New Commissioners
PENSACOLA -- Gov. Jeb Bush has appointed four new Escambia County commissioners to replace the four he suspended following a fraud investigation into two recent land deals.
Marie Young, 67, a city councilwoman, replaces Willie Junior; Janice Gilley, 36, staff director for the Florida House of Representatives Majority Office, takes Terry Smith's place; Clifford Barnhart, 80, retired president and publisher of the Pensacola News Journal, replaces W.D. Childers; and Timothy Wright, 61, associate director of the University of West Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition, fills in the seat held by Michael Bass.