3/10/2006 Houston-- A high-speed wireless network is in the works, one accessible to businesses, residents, and government. The best thing about it is that taxpayers won't have take on the burden of paying for it. Instead, under the city's plan to contract a private company to finance and manage the network, its users would pay for the service. The project could help Houston bridge the digital divide between those who have Internet access vs. those who don't. About 75% of the population in the U.S., access the internet according to one study.

The updated technology would cost Houstonians half of what they pay today for internet access thus driving down the cost of wireless broadband. This means people who can't afford internet access now may be able to once the network is in place.

In considering the project, Houston is trying to join 70 other cities that are planning large networks including Corpus Christi, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Houston's network could be installed starting early next year. It is intended to foster economic development and help the city operate more effectively and five residents and business owners access to new, faster technology.

The Houston Internet access plan is still in the early stages. Companies will likely start bidding on the project in the next few months. The final contract will still require City Council's approval. Experts estimate that it would take about two years to outfit Houston with a wireless network costing $50,000-$75,000 per square mile or $1 million for Houston downtown alone.

The wireless or WIFI network would enable police and other public safety employees to log on from the road, retailers and schools to access high-speed Internet without paying for their own infrastructure and Web users at home to upgrade. The service would be free to city government, as well as Houstonians who bring their own laptops to select hotspots, such as a large park.

In homes and businesses, the connection would come with a price, but a low price compared to nowadays. The monthly fee could be about $15 compared with the $30-60 residents pay now. The wireless builder would create and maintain the network, while an Internet Service Provider (ISP) charges consumers to use it. Houston would regulate the wholesale rate, which the ISP pays the builder.

Contributed by Alexis Grant.