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April 4, 2003

A downtown business improvement district is planning to establish free high-speed wireless Internet access in six parks and public spaces in Lower Manhattan next month, significantly expanding the availability downtown of wireless connections to the Internet.

Officials of the Alliance for Downtown New York, the business improvement district that encompasses most of Manhattan south of City Hall, said yesterday that the organization will set up wireless access points, which are known as Wi-Fi connections or "hot spots," in City Hall Park, the South Street Seaport area and Bowling Green.

In addition, the wireless access points will be available in Vietnam Veterans Plaza on Water Street north of Broad Street; in Liberty Plaza, at Broadway and Liberty Street; and in Rector Park in Battery Park City.

In those areas, plus at least one more for which the service is still being negotiated, anyone with a properly equipped laptop computer or personal digital assistant can enjoy free, high-speed access to the Internet through a system paid for by the Alliance.

The networks will be similar to a wireless network set up in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan that has grown in popularity since it was introduced last year.

Although access is also available in a few other parks in the city, like Tompkins Square and Madison Square, those services are made available by individuals who live or work nearby and might not be accessible in all areas of the parks.

Last year, the Downtown Alliance set up an experimental wireless network at Bowling Green. Dormant since last fall, it will be reestablished on May 1, at the same time as the five other downtown networks. The network should allow anyone in Lower Manhattan to walk to a free, wireless Internet connection within five minutes, said Shirley Jaffe, a vice president for economic development at the Downtown Alliance.

"At a time when there is a lot of doom and gloom over Lower Manhattan, this certainly demonstrates that downtown does have a future," Ms. Jaffe said.

The system is being created for the alliance by Emenity, a for-profit company formerly known as Cloud Networks. The company is affiliated with NYC Wireless, a non-profit organization that encourages the establishment of wireless networks.

Anthony Townsend, the chief operating officer of Emenity and a co-founder of NYC Wireless, said that the Lower Manhattan project will be one of the largest free wireless networks in the country.

The Downtown Alliance says its effort will establish the first wireless business district in the country, although the claim is difficult to verify. Wireless networking is often a communal activity, where individuals hang an antenna for their own system out a window, making Internet access available to anyone who wants it.

NYC Wireless has mapped 141 such hot spots in the New York City area, where individuals or companies make their networks available for public use. Another nonprofit organization, the Public Internet Project, mapped more than 13,000 places in Manhattan alone where signals from home or office wireless networks can be detected and used by a computer user.

Mr. Townsend said Long Beach, Calif., has established a wireless network in the area of its convention center, and he said organizations in a growing number of cities are expected to begin offering similar services beginning this spring.

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