Arkansas Working to Rise on Digital Index

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Sep. 12, 2011 12:00 am  

"Merchants in the city make a great deal of money when conventions come," she said. "Larger conventions look for free WI-Fi in the [Statehouse] Convention Center and surrounding areas. LRCVB made the decision that free Wi-Fi needed to be offered in order to encourage investment in the area."

Two Arkansas cities, Paragould and Conway, have built broadband networks themselves to make sure their citizens are covered. Conway's Conway Corp. is not regulated and is now facing competition from AT&T's U-verse system.

"It's forced Conway Corp. to up their game," Evans said. "They bumped up my broadband speed without telling or charging me."

But government agencies or corporations aren't always available to help nudge along connectivity.

"Oftentimes, in restaurants, it's free because they are financing it in the interest of business," Bowles said.

Other times, networks are advertising-supported, a situation that users uniformly hate. Argenta Wireless, for example, once beat out Aristotle to provide ad-backed Wi-Fi services for Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. Since Argenta Wireless' tower was struck by lightning earlier this year, however, the field has been without Wi-Fi service.

"These [ad-based] networks are not as desirable," Bowles said. "The ads are intrusive, and you can't use the network without getting ads. Customers would rather use their AT&T data plan than get on an ad-supported network."

Data plans represent another way users both urban and rural can connect wirelessly to the Internet, and Connect Arkansas shows that coverage to be almost ubiquitous.

Talking About Generations
So if users can just use their 3G or 4G Smart Phones to connect, why bother with wireless service at all? It turns out this can be a point of contention for Wi-Fi providers.

"It's less of a problem in Arkansas than on the East Coast and in Chicago or L.A.," Bowles said. "But people download a lot of data, so all of the wireless carriers decided to cap that data."

The data cap tends to be a few gigabytes, or the size of storing a half-dozen feature-length movies. Moreover, data streaming from programs like Netflix can also quickly exceed the data transfer limit, inflating telephone bills.

"This is increasingly a business model for Wi-Fi: 3G or 4G offloading," Bowles said. "It allows you to take five gigabytes of data, offload it from cell networks and onto free Wi-Fi networks, alleviating the burden on the cell phone."

 

 

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