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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

New Orleans Installs Free Public Wi-Fi

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Citizens of New Orleans use the city's free Wi-Fi network
The City of New Orleans is installing free public Wi-Fi (wireless internet connection) throughout the city, by hanging simple, cheap, shoebox-sized boxes from lampposts. The system will be accessible to anyone with a wireless connection on their computer. The system will also save the city money by enabling city employees such as building inspectors and police to quickly file and process paperwork on-location (through a secure network).

The new system is, in part, a response to the recent devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Because a Wi-Fi system, like the internet, is a distributed network that does not rely on a central node, it can continue working even if parts of the network are knocked out (the internet was originally designed by the US military to be a communications network that would survive a nuclear attack). Ironically, the system can only be installed in New Orleans because of the disaster: under pressure from telephone corporations, Louisiana has passed a law restricting the ability of municipalities to install free public communications systems, but New Orleans is exempt thanks to the state of emergency declared after the hurricane hit.