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City Eyes Wi-Fi Provider

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

April 18 -- Not Google nor Earthlink, but AzulStar may soon be the high-tech company downloaded by the City to bring the wireless internet revolution to Santa Monica -- and it’ll come with few strings attached.

Soon entering the final phase of product testing with the City, the Michigan-based company could soon be tapped to monitor and grow almost a dozen "hot spots" where wireless (Wi-Fi) internet is now available into an invisible system that will span all 8.3 miles of Santa Monica in the next few years.

"The end goal is to provide internet services to residences, businesses and visitors alike," said Jory Wolf, the City's Chief Information Officer. "If all goes well… we envision AzulStar is going to be operational by the end of next fiscal year, in June of 2008."

From Michigan to Arizona to the Silicon Valley, the company started by former Intel and McKinsey & Co. managers launched in 2002 has built six wireless internet systems nationwide, four of which cover entire cities, according to AzulStar’s website.

They also boast having built the "first citywide municipal Wi-Fi network" in the United States in Grand Haven, Michigan, as well as "the nation's largest and most advanced muni Wi-Fi network," in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

While not as large other internet giants, AzulStar's promise of free service may seal the deal in Santa Monica, even as companies continue to jostle for nationwide contracts from Los Angeles to New York to install and run citywide wireless systems, Wolf said.

"Azulstar was chosen because they use good technology and it works with our business plan to provide free internet bandwidth for the public," said Wolf. "AzulStar does the same thing as Google or Earthlink, but they offer it for free for the public…which is very rare."

While free service could be available through the public system powered by 2.4 gigahertz, rates for faster service without advertisements will also be available to residents and tourists, said Wolf.

Meanwhile businesses will need to pay for access separately, he said.

"We are going to offer businesses the right to competitive rates, and it will be free to residents and visitors with advertising," he said.

While rates are still under negotiation, the company could one day compete with cable providers such as Time-Warner and Verizon, Wolf said.

"We are ultimately providing consumers a choice, and the more competition in the market place, the lower the rates are going to be," said Wolf.

Not only will AzulStar help expand the patchwork of 11 public areas that offers wireless internet -- including City Hall, the Third Street Promenade, the Pier and Virginia Avenue Park -- it will also likely help retool local government services to function together as what could be likened to a City-wide brain.

"We are moving out of the realm of the office into the City," said Wolf. "Directions signs, traffic signals, they are all networkable."

From cop cars to traffic cameras and lights, each device will eventually receive an address on the internet (commonly called an Internet Provider, or an IP address) that can be controlled and better coordinated via a computer.

"All of these devices out in the Public Right of Way are now manageable as an IP address," Wolf said, noting 4.9 Gigahertz of bandwidth will be set aside for government use by police and City officials, compared to the 2.4 gigahertz for public use.

Even as the City continues to move closer to turning over its fledgling wireless system launched in 2005, the system continues to expand, said Wolf.

On Tuesday, the Ken Edwards Center logged on for the first time, according to Wolf. And by the end of May, three more parks -- the new Airport Park, Reed Park and Cloverfield Park -- will be wireless accessible as well.

Several other open space areas, such as Memorial and Marine parks, are also targeted.

The City is also spreading the word through the thriving tourist industry.

"We created a brochure that we've handed out to concierge services and hotels, and it's a complete map of our Wi-Fi locations throughout the City," Wolf said.


"We are ultimately providing consumers a choice, and the more competition in the market place, the lower the rates are going to be." Jory Wolf



"We are moving out of the realm of the office into the City. Directions signs, traffic signals, they are all networkable."


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