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Published: Saturday, 4/16/2005

Turnpike hooks up with wireless Net

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Wireless Internet access is coming to select locations around Ohio and Michigan. Sometimes, it's free, sometimes not.

Politicians hope that cheap, fast, and ubiquitous Internet access will help keep and attract tech-savvy professionals and businesses.

"It's a quality-of-life and economic development issue," said David Behen, information technology director for Michigan's Washtenaw County. "If we have widespread wireless access, we become a technology playground for innovation."

On the Ohio Turnpike, wireless high-speed access arrives this summer. But it won't be free.

SBC Communications Inc., the provider, will charge turnpike users $7.95 for 24-hour access to SBC wireless hot spots. The cost of unlimited use will range from $19.95 a month, with a year's commitment, to $1.99 a month for SBC DSL customers.

Service plazas getting wireless access include the Commodore Perry and Wyandot plazas eastbound and the Erie Islands and Blue Heron plazas westbound, all in Sandusky County.

Other plazas with access will be Vermilion Valley eastbound and Middle Ridge westbound, both in Lorain County; Towpath eastbound and Great Lakes westbound, both in Cuyahoga County, and Brady's Leap eastbound and Portage westbound, both in Portage County.

Detroit has had wireless hot spots downtown for about a year. Grand Haven on Lake Michigan has been wired since July. Detroit's wireless access is free, but in most cases, the new quasipublic wireless access will carry a fee.

Questions remain whether there are enough people to turn the access into something more than a novelty, and whether users will pay.

Most experts say customers will come.

"It's been one of the hottest technology topics we've seen among communities in years," said Dale Bowen of the Public Technology Institute, a nonprofit agency in Washington that works with communities on technology issues.

In Ann Arbor, Brad Triden, 29, a University of Michigan mechanical engineering student, packs his laptop and heads to coffee shops and restaurants where he can get e-mails and scan the Internet without wired connections.

"We get tired of studying at home," the Ann Arbor resident said as he studied at Java Hutt in Birmingham with friend Liz Foreman, 25, a Wayne State law school student and Ann Arbor resident. "We've scoped out most of the places that have free wireless."



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