The value of free wireless connectivity

Say you're an apartment developer and you realize it's time to investin some of your older buildings. And this being a recession, you eitherwant to keep or attract as many tennats as you can. What are goodhooks? New windows, carpet, laminate wood flooring, dishwashers,microwave hoods and several other appliances work. And one more thing:Free wireless Internet access. That's what one SiliconValley developer has started offering.

Yousee, while the free WiFi101 service straddling Hwy. 101 in EastPalo Alto from a non-profit group was spreading, one part,which included apartments owned by developer Page Mill Properties,didn't get covered. Page Mill figured that free Wi-Fi service mightlure a number of tenants, so it paid WiFi101for access rights andinstalled what it calls a “beta Wi-Fi system” to connect to thenon-profit network. According to a press release, the company beganwith a test service to 148 residents in its Woodland Park properties, part of US$11million in building upgrades, and found the idea successful enough toplan on expanding Internet service to all 8,000 residents in the restof its buildings. The developer is training some residents as supporttechnicians to keep costs down, and is planning to offer computertraining so tenants can take advantage of the service. A spokesmans fordeveloper Page Mill said it hasn't been decided if the service willalways be free.

Will this idea catch on here? There are only ahandful of free community-wide Internet services in this country. Thebiggest is Frederickton, N.B.'s Fred-eZone. There are somemunicipally-owned services, most of which charge for access. Still, ifvacancy rates rise some developers may see offering free Internetservice as one way to protect their investment.

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