In the News

Published November 1, 2005

Google Sponsors Bryant Park Wi-Fi

Google has quietly lent its name and sponsorship to New York’s Bryant Park Wi-Fi hot spot, one of the first free public wireless zones in the country and an example that municipal wireless proponents frequently use to illustrate the viability of free government-provided wireless. Mark Evans, a Canadian-based blogger on technology, reported the development in late September.

Internet access in Bryant Park is still free, and there is no indication Google has taken over management of the hot spot, which was set up in 2001 by, a nonprofit organization. It is currently operated by New York’s Public Internet Project (PIP), an independent nonprofit group deploying wireless hotspots around the city. Google’s sponsorship is noted on a sign in the park that carries its logo.

Google has been quietly exploring opportunities in Wi-Fi. The company markets software designed to make wireless connections more secure. It also sponsors a free hotspot in Union Square in San Francisco. The Bryant Park report has triggered speculation that Google may attempt to enter the Wi-Fi business through acquisition of large numbers of Wi-Fi hot spots originally established by municipalities.

Google’s sponsorship of Bryant Park offers more evidence that cities cannot operate free Wi-Fi networks, even when they include locations as popular as Bryant Park, from their own resources alone. At the same time, it also suggests a willingness on the part of private companies to fund Wi-Fi network deployment when it can be attached to a larger business case.

Embezzlement Charges Cloud State Wi-Fi Project

An ambitious West Virginia plan to build a statewide wireless network has been thrown into doubt following allegations that the former CEO of the state’s private industry partner, Sequelle Communications, embezzled $1.5 million in funds earmarked for the project, including a $600,000 grant from the state itself.

According to an article in the Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail, a lawsuit filed in Parkersburg, West Virginia by the Sequelle board of directors claims Heidi Laughery, who had been Sequelle’s CEO from its founding in 2001 until last year, misappropriated funds by submitting false invoices and used loans and the company’s land for herself. The company also charges Laughery failed to disclose a past felony conviction for wire fraud.

In 2002, West Virginia announced a partnership with Sequelle to build wireless networks as part of a plan to spark economic development throughout the state. The state issued Sequelle a $600,000 Small Cities Block Grant, and the West Virginia Development Office guaranteed a $340,000 bank loan to Sequelle. The state will be forced to cover the loan if Sequelle defaults.

Nielsen: Broadband Access at 42 Percent

Some 42 percent of Americans now have access to broadband at home, an increase of 16 percent since the beginning of the year, according to a Nielsen/NetRatings report issued in September. The report also found 61 percent of active Internet users rely on broadband, an increase of almost 10 percent in the 12 months following August 2004.

More than 17 million Americans have signed up for broadband since January, the report found. Telephony magazine attributes the trend to the dropping cost of broadband services. The major phone companies, including BellSouth, SBC Communications, and Verizon, Telephony noted, have dropped their basic DSL prices to under $20 a month, at least for introductory offers.

States Use SSTP Software to Tax Online Sales

Eighteen states have implemented a new computer program that tracks and applies state and local sales taxes to Internet purchases made by consumers. The program, which launched October 1, is part of the Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP).

The new computer program tracks the tax rates of the 18 states and their localities and automatically adds that rate to the bill for every online purchase.

Steven Titch ([email protected]) is senior fellow for IT and telecom policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of IT&T News.