May 26, 2006, 1:58 PM — Earthlink Inc. got the go-ahead Friday from the New Orleans City Council for a contentious plan to build a Wi-Fi network much like the one currently offering free services to residents, some of whom still have no regular telephone service, in the hurricane-ravaged city.
The network will offer free service to residents and visitors while the city continues to rebuild. Earthlink will also offer a faster service, delivering 1M bps (bits per second) uplink and downlink and customer service, to paying customers.
Earthlink will make the network open so that other service providers can offer competing services to users over its infrastructure.
Soon after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans last year, the city decided to open up the Wi-Fi network that had been used by city workers to the general public. Then late last year the city said it was expanding that network and would continue to offer free access.
But earlier this year reports surfaced that BellSouth Corp., the local telephone company in New Orleans, was opposing that plan. Like some other U.S. states, Louisiana law forbids municipalities from offering communications services that compete with commercial operations. Such laws were often hastily pushed through local governments with the backing of incumbent operators that were worried about the growing enthusiasm for and potential competition from city-sponsored free Wi-Fi networks. New Orleans' law includes an exception for emergency situations.
BellSouth has largely denied that it has worked against the city's plans.
More recently, Earthlink's name began to pop up as a possible operator to build the network instead of the city of New Orleans. Earthlink said the free offering will only be available for a limited time.
Earthlink has won contracts to build Wi-Fi networks in other cities including Philadelphia and San Francisco.