Cambridge to offer free wireless Internet service

by Beacon Staff • February 15, 2006

Many students interviewed said the plan might influence them to seek out apartments in Cambridge instead of neighborhoods in Boston.,The City of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are teaming up to offer free wireless Internet access for the city's estimated 102,000 residents by the end of the year.

Many students interviewed said the plan might influence them to seek out apartments in Cambridge instead of neighborhoods in Boston. There are approximately 50 Emerson students currently residing in Cambridge, according to Christy Letizia, coordinator of Off Campus Student Services.

Sophomore film major Timothy Whitney, who is looking at apartments in Cambridge and Somerville, said the benefits of free wireless may have an impact on his decision.

"If it comes down to two apartments, one in Somerville and one in Cambridge, I would definitely choose the one in Cambridge just because of the free wireless," Whitney said.

"If I'm saving $50 a month on wireless, it would help me to cover rent, food and other utilities."

The average cost of wireless Internet is between $40-$60, according to the Web sites of area Internet service providers.

According to Dr. Jerrold Grochow, vice president for information services and technology at MIT, the early stages of the free wireless program would allow Cambridge residents and visitors to perform essential Internet tasks.

"The goal that the city has is to provide a basic level of access for doing things such as checking e-mail and Web-browsing," Grochow said.

Currently, the program has no plans to include Internet operations such as downloading movies and songs and the speed of the connection cannot be determined yet.

"It's not pure oxygen, but it's pretty decent air," Grochow said. "The speed is going to depend on how many people use it . it will get slower if more people use it, but they can incrementally add capacity."

Grochow said the idea was put into motion after a City Council resolution last summer. According to Dr. Grochow, the initiative was the result of other citywide free wireless proposals in places like Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Grochow said free wireless would be made possible by "mesh" technology. He described this as a network of computers sending signals to each other with the aid of a radio repeater. In "mesh," it is not necessary for each access point to be connected to the Internet.

Freshman film major Emmanuel Psihountas said he and several of his friends are looking at an apartment in Cambridge. Psihountas, who owns a desktop computer and does not use wireless, said the prospect of free wireless, would not entice him to live in Cambridge.

"One of the benefits of wireless is that you can take your computer outside, but in Boston, it is freezing cold six months out of the year, and you don't really want to be outside in the cold with your laptop," Psihountas said.

Despite this, Psihountas thinks that his friends may lean towards Cambridge as a result of having free wireless Internet access.

"When you get your own apartment, there are many new expenses and any service you can get for free, like Internet services, would be a perk regardless of how well it works," Psihountas said.