Wi-Fi Access Spreads to Parks, Open Spaces

Gretchen Gallen
SAN FRANCISCO – In a move that could open up the floodgates for increased Internet usage, a high-speed wireless partnership has been formed with the California State Parks and SBC Communications to provide Wi-Fi access to 85 of California's 278 parks.

According to a California State Parks spokesperson, Wi-Fi access, also known as 802.11, will only be available in limited areas, typically around visitor centers and campgrounds. The plan is expected to be implemented by May, when the official camping season kicks into gear, and would require users to be within 150-200 feet from Wi-Fi transmitters.

"We are living in a time when more and more people are communicating through the Internet," said State Parks Director Ruth Coleman. "I think our visitors will appreciate a new service that helps them stay in touch with family, friends or even the workplace, if need be."

SBC's rollout would also include San Elijo State Beach near San Diego and comes at a time when Wi-Fi access is an increasingly popular feature being offered by cities like San Jose, Calif., and the City of West Hollywood, Calif., which is currently in the test phase of a free outdoor high-speed wireless program for residents and visitors.

The West Hollywood Wi-Fi plan covers Santa Monica Boulevard between La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue with an eventual goal of encompassing the entire 1.9-mile scope of the city, although city officials have not yet chosen a telecommunications vendor.

Other cities that have implemented Wi-Fi access include Southlake, Texas, areas of New York City, Portland, Ore., Rio Rancho, N.M., and the city of Philadelphia, which is the largest municipality to provide city-wide wireless access, particularly to low-income residents and public parks. Philadelphia's wireless plan will eventually encompass 135 miles and is slated for completion by the summer of 2006.

SBC said in a statement that its new wireless service for California's state parks will be free to SBC subscribers, and for a fee, wireless users can buy into the plan. The list of Wi-Fi-enabled parks has not yet been released.