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FREE WI-FI coming to Shawnee Neighborhood | By: Other

Technology entrepreneur Joe McNealy's dream to build a Wi-Fi network throughout western Louisville took an important step forward this week.

The city announced it has launched a program to bring free outdoor online access to parts of the Shawnee neighborhood, with the pilot installed at the Shawnee Arts & Cultural Center, at 37th Street and Del Park Terrace.

"What we're trying to do is provide people with the hookup because you have to have technology to do practically anything these days," said McNealy, a resident of the Russell neighborhood and founder of TheWirelessFreeway project. "If everything is going in that direction and you look at 30 to 40 percent of the population in west Louisville that don't have an Internet connection, that's 30 to 40 percent being left behind."

TheWirelessFreeway project hopes to build a wireless network west of Ninth Street and north of Algonquin Parkway to the Ohio River, making it the largest continuous free outdoor public wireless network in the state.

The free Wi-Fi pilot program cost approximately $3,500 and is being paid for with discretionary funds from Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton's office.

Hamilton, D-5th District, said that the pilot project could eventually provide better connectivity for as many as 65,000 residents of western Louisville's nine neighborhoods.

The city's technology department is overseeing the Wi-Fi network's implementation and working closely with technology provider Cisco, Jefferson County Public Schools and Metro Parks on the project. City officials said they hope wireless access eventually will be extended to the exterior of more than six dozen publicly accessible facilities and outdoor attractions. There are also opportunities provided for churches, non-profit groups, area businesses and homeowners.

"A community where people always have their online services and social networking tools at hand is a locality where neighborhoods can better lure technology entrepreneurs and businesses to facilitate waves of innovation and brand these neighborhoods as tech friendly," said Ted Smith, the city's chief of civic innovation. "Ultimately, the benefit is about giving our children an advantage; it is about providing opportunity to every resident in west Louisville."

The network's full development will depend on funding. McNealy said his group estimates it would cost just $150,000 to cover all of western Louisville.

Reporter Phillip M. Bailey can be reached at (502) 582-4475. Follow him on Twitter at@phillipmbailey

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