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700 Sq Miles of WiFi

On a good day I can pick up my neighbor’s wifi (shh, don’t tell). If you live within the 700 square mile block near rural Hermiston, Oregon you can pick up free uninterrupted wifi for miles in every direction.

While cities around the country are battling over plans to offer free or cheap Internet access, this lonely terrain is served by what is billed as the world’s largest hotspot, a wireless cloud that stretches over 700 square miles of landscape so dry and desolate it could have been lifted from a cowboy tune.

Attempts to bring wifi clouds to several large urban areas have been more or less stymied by major telecom companies (who are pouring money into state legislative bills that will prohibit the practice).

But here among the thistle, large providers such as local phone company Qwest Communications International Inc. see little profit potential. So wireless entrepreneur Fred Ziari drew no resistance for his proposed wireless network, enabling him to quickly build the $5 million cloud at his own expense.

The service is free to general users. Ziari hopes to recover is investment through contracts with local government agencies and businesses who utilize more bandwidth and features on the network.

Asked why other municipalities have had a harder time succeeding, he replies: “Politics.”

“If we get a go-ahead, we can do a fairly good-sized city in a month or two,” said Ziari. “The problem is getting the go-ahead.”

Looks like most rural residents will keep dialing up for a little while longer.

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