Ben Smidt

The city of Madison is taking the next big step toward the creation of a wireless network. The network would encompass a large majority of the city as soon as next spring.

The planned areas in the wireless network would include the downtown, the Dane County Regional Airport, Monona Terrace and the Alliant Energy Center.

The network would provide a mile and a half radius, at a minimum, around the Capitol square, with an emphasis on offices and State Street. The signal would also cover many buildings for residential and business use, as well as covering outdoor areas like the Capitol grounds and James Madison Park.

Plans to accommodate additional areas into the network would follow in the future.

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk attended a press conference Friday to discuss initial plans in the creation of the “Wireless Wisconsin” initiative.

Wireless Wisconsin, with support from the Wisconsin Department of Administration, opened a Request for Proposal (RFP) process to seek out a bidder who would operate the wireless network, according to George Twigg, communications director for the mayor.

“We’re hoping companies that are interested in bidding on the service will come forward with proposals,” Twigg said.

The proposals must be received by Jan. 10, and a final decision on the selected service will be made Jan. 24. If things continue at this pace, the wireless service may be available by next spring.

Likely service providers, such as SBC and other large communications companies, are interested in the bidding process, but there is room for other vendors as well.

“It’s an open process that will be carefully looked over before a decision is made,” Twigg said. “We’re going to take a look at proposals as they come in and evaluate them.”

Twigg said the mayor is especially excited with the forward movement of the wireless initiative.

“A healthy city is a connected city, and Wireless Wisconsin will enable city residents, workers and visitors to connect more easily,” Cieslewicz said in a release. “Bringing wireless Internet to downtown Madison is an idea I have been advocating since earlier this year.”

Many of the wireless hubs could be outfitted for light poles, meaning there will be no large towers incorporated in the plan, according to Twigg. The RFP requests interested vendors to lay out their construction and outfitting plans for the hubs. Vendors would cover the construction of the network hubs.

The winning vendor for the initiative will pay the city, county and state for the right to run the wireless-fidelity (wi-fi), Twig added. No taxpayer dollars will be required in the project.

“The county, city and state working together provides for a seamless, wireless system that will provide great service at no cost to our taxpayers,” Falk said in a release. “Wi-fi will allow people to move about our community for business, study or pleasure and access the Internet.”

Free access to a handful of local websites would be available, and full Internet service will be available for a selected fee. Users could pay for a daily, monthly or long-term fee to access the service.

“[The cost] varies from situation to situation,” Twigg said. “If a person on business flies into the airport they could pay a daily fee to access the service, for example.”

Twigg said the service aims to be economically accessible for Madison residents, but “the costs remain to be seen.”

Large institutions could also buy a license, such as the University of Wisconsin, who could then provide the service free to students.

“We want this to be available to as much of the community as possible, including students” Twigg added.

Tony Parker, UW sophomore and laptop owner, said wireless availability on State Street would benefit students.

“There are so many coffee shops that would open more places to study,” Parker said. “It might alleviate traffic in libraries because it would give you more options to study or write a paper.”

Parker said he often takes his laptop into coffee shops where he cannot access the wireless Wiscworld.

“It’s kind of a burden to not have wireless. It’d be great if you could write an e-mail or check an assignment online,” Parker said.