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Mayor Bloomberg says that the effort is to support tech innovators, but don’t they already have the Internet?

Keep Brooklyn wired: City to bring free public wifi to Downtown, BAM, Brownsville

Brooklyn Daily

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The city is bringing free wireless internet to busy commercial areas around Brooklyn and throughout the five boroughs with the hope that boosting wifi signals will help maintain New York’s winning edge.

“If New York City is going to remain competitive in the global economy, we must find ways to support the entrepreneurs who are driving technological advances and creating jobs,” Mayor Bloomberg said, announcing the initiative from the Brooklyn Courier’s building at 1 MetroTech Center.

The plan calls for establishing the service Downtown, around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and on Brownsville’s main commercial strip. The outgoing mayor seems to want tech start-up whiz kids to be able to video-conference while sitting on sidewalk benches, overlooking the fact that most tech start-up whiz kids, like more than half of Americans, already have internet-enabled smartphones. But regardless of whether the $4.3-million initiative will make the next Facebook grow in Brooklyn, some brick-and-mortar business owners say the signal boost will be a boon for them.

“If somebody is coming here for BAM, I think this will be a fantastic tool to help them learn about what else is in the neighborhood,” said Amy Bennett, owner of the Greene Grape grocery and wine store. “Technology allows people to see through walls.”

The cost burden will be split between the city, which will foot $900,000 of the bill, and different companies that will take responsibility for getting the project off the ground in different areas. The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership will be in charge of the Downtown coverage area, which will include the area bordered by Schermerhorn Street, Cadman Plaza West, Flatbush Avenue, and Tillary Street, as well as public areas within the Ingersoll and Whitman houses. The Brooklyn Academy of Music will oversee the project on Fulton Street between Rockwell Place and Classon Avenue. And Gowex, a company that sets up free wireless internet in cities, will tackle the part Brownsville bordered by Sutter Avenue, Mother Gaston Boulevard, and Pitkin and Howard avenues.

Residents in those areas who hope to ditch their own services and siphon the public signal are out of luck, according to the city.

“The devices will be pointed onto public spaces. It won’t penetrate walls,” said Joshua Winter, senior vice president of strategic planning for the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

Some ground floor dwellers might have a shot at free data, though.

“If someone happens to have a window on a street level, they might get it in one room,” Winter said.

City officials said the areas should be wired up by December but, in the meantime, people walking around Downtown can already take advantage of a handful of wireless hot-spots, including two pay phones on the Fulton Street Mall that have taken on new lives as internet routers.

The city also announced the launch of a service called WiredNYC that will help building owners determine the quality of their properties’ internet connectivity, so that they can better market to would-be Mark Zuckerbergs.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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