RESEARH TRIANGLE PARK — Internet users in Winston-Salem have had free access to WiFi (wireless fidelity) along 4th Street downtown since March 2003. Now, the city’s pioneering effort is getting lots more company.

Greg Richardson, a co-founder of Atlanta-based Civitium who is involved in many of the WiFi projects including Winston-Salem, wrote recently that this year is a crucial one for WiFi.

“As we move into 2006, an important transition is happening in the municipal broadband movement. In addition to 2006 being the “prove it to me” year where we see large-scale deployments and begin to measure their success against the plans developed in 2005, it’s also a year in which the impact of these initiatives starts to be felt on the broader communications and media industries,” he wrote. See:

On Monday, Embarq — the promised spin-off of local telephone operations from Sprint Nextel, said it would conduct a WiFi trial with the city of Henderson NV.

The City of Houston has just announced a request for proposal for a wireless net.

The city of Philadelphia is in the process of awarding a WiFi contract to Atlanta-based EarthLink, and EarthLink is teaming up with Google on a bid for a WiFi deal in San Franciscio.

After years of fighting WiFi efforts, now the telephone big boys such as BellSouth and AT&T and cable giants including Time Warner are getting into the act. A Wall Street Journal report on Monday spelled out how the giants had fought to stop metropolitan WiFi projects, largely failed and have since decided to join the growing crowd of WiFi supporters.

BellSouth on Monday said it would consider WiFi as an alternative to another wireless broadband offering it has rolled out in five markets, including New Orleans.

Here’s a quick update on developments:

“We are excited to partner with Sprint on such an exciting new service,” said Henderson Mayor James Gibson. “Allowing our police and fire personnel, safety inspectors and other officials access to Wi-Fi services will really help them in their efforts to ensure the safety and security of our residents. This partnership is another innovative way we are working to provide an unmatched quality of life and level of service to our people.”

For details, see:

Hurriances are helping drive interest in BellSouth territory.
“There’s a higher level of customer interest in these solutions based on the hurricanes,” said Michael Bowling, vice president for development at BellSouth, in an interview with Reuters.

For details, see:

“Having tried to stop cities from offering cut-rate or free wireless Internet access to their citizens, some large phone and cable companies are now aiming to get into the market themselves,” wrote Amol Sharma in The Wall Street Journal.

For details, see:

For a web site devoted to WiFi developments, see:

Winston-Salem’s program: