Chattanooga eyeing free Wi-Fi; competition to name new service kicks off today

Chattanooga eyeing free Wi-Fi; competition to name new service kicks off today

September 3rd, 2014 by Ellis Smith in Local Regional News

Chattanooga has unveiled a plan to offer free Wi-Fi across the city.

Workers are in the process of rewiring the existing Wi-Fi in city-owned buildings, and in subsequent phases will open up Wi-Fi in parks and other open spaces, said Lacie Stone, director of communications for the city.

In buildings with Wi-Fi available in some areas, such as the city's Youth and Family Development centers, workers are expanding the networks to cover the whole structures, Stone said.

Such a plan dates back to 2011, when the administration of former Mayor Ron Littlefield announced that it would conduct a test of free Wi-Fi in selected areas.

The city by then had already partly completed a network of 580 wireless routers across the city, initially designed as a network for police to use for their in-car laptops. But the network, a so-called wireless mesh, was never completed and the plan to offer free citywide Wi-Fi using the mesh network was shelved by the Berke administration.

The new network will not use the $30 million mesh system. Nor will it represent a brand new network. Instead, it is more of a retooling of a patchwork of existing networks and will be more limited in scope, covering only certain properties rather than a ubiquitous, citywide coverage area as first envisioned under the Littlefield administration.

The city will kick off a naming competition today that will allow the public to vote on the best name for the new Wi-Fi. For instance, Boston's municipal Wi-Fi system is called "Wicked Free Wi-Fi," the city says.

After a week of submissions, the mayor's office will narrow the list down to five names, which then will be put to a vote.

The city's effort is separate from the work of The Enterprise Center, which is working on a solution to bridge the digital divide and bring Internet access to Chattanooga's poorest communities.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or with tips and documents.