The City of Milwaukee will soon offer wireless Internet access to city residents, businesses and more. The 14-year wireless agreement will encompass, at a minimum, 90 percent of the city and is set to begin this spring.

Mayor Tom Barrett, with the support of other city officials, signed a contract with Midwest Fiber Networks in late January. Philadelphia implemented a similar plan, and Madison also has been working to finalize plans for a similar network.

"This will bring [Milwaukee] to the forefront as one of the first, and largest, wireless cities nationwide," Ald. Michael Murphy, District 10, said of the new plan. "It is a great way for the city as a whole to connect."

The first phase of the plan will focus on a small neighborhood launch — six square miles — and will be completed within the next 18 months. The area within the first launch runs from 10th Street to Hwy. 31 North, and Canal Street to Vliet Street.

"This will make Milwaukee the first city in America … to be completely wireless," Assembly Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said. "That's huge. It really marks another step in Milwaukee's transformation into a world-class, information-age city."

According to Randy Gschwind, chief information officer for Milwaukee, wireless will allow small businesses to enter the playing field where corporate businesses often control. The network will offer similar rates for all businesses.

"[The network] raises the profile of the city and provides a better climate for education," Gschwind said.

Because cable companies and SBC carriers currently control the delivery of content, this wireless networking will also provide competition in forms of more content.

"We are helping content reach the marketplace, which would otherwise not be available to consumers," Manchester said. "Wireless networking will be an added benefit for those moving to Milwaukee."

Richards said he is excited to see the positive impact the network can have on the city's business market and disparities in Internet access.

"I also think it's going to help us close the digital divide that we have all over America between middle class communities and poorer areas in access to basic digital services," he said.

Gschwind echoed similar sentiments, adding Barrett has been working to offer cheaper and faster Internet to overcome the "digital divide" in an open, neutral and competitive network.

In exchange for using the city's new conduit system, Midwest Fiber Networks will not charge the city a fee to implement the new program.

The company hopes the wireless network will increase employment, establish job-training programs and eventually share in the gross revenue produced by the network, according to the MWFN Wireless Network Build Final Term Sheet.