In a bid to boost downtown revitalization efforts, Kissimmee Utility Authority (KUA) on Sept. 7 launched a free Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) mesh network or "hot zone" in downtown Kissimmee.
The network makes it possible for people outdoors using a laptop computer or personal digital assistant (PDA) to check their e-mail, download material and have full access to the Internet for free within the wireless coverage area.
The project is the result of collaboration between KUA.net, the telecommunications division of KUA, and Kissimmee's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).
"Creative partnerships like this wireless project strengthen Kissimmee's reputation as a tech-savvy city," said Gail Hamilton, director of Kissimmee's CRA. "It adds convenience to the daily lives of our residents and visitors and enhances our downtown business district."
KUA.net is known for its local high-speed wireless solutions having served the retirement community of Solivita since 2002. The partnership ended earlier this year when another provider acquired the television cable and Internet access rights for that community.
"The idea for downtown wireless was to provide something easy to use and free to the general public," said Terry Farley, KUA's manager of Internet services. "We were able to pursue this project by simply reallocating resources used in Solivita."
Initially, the network covers one square mile, but by next summer, KUA.net expects to cover two square miles or 80 percent of the downtown area. Current coverage includes Kissimmee City Hall, Kissimmee Police Department, Osceola County Courthouse, Community House, Kissimmee Lakefront Park, Amtrak and Greyhound stations and numerous restaurants along Broadway.
In addition, boaters anchored along the northern tip of Lake Tohopekaliga can access the wireless network to download waterway navigational charts or check the latest weather forecast.
"It's worth noting that KUA.net purchased and installed this network without the use of electric revenues," said Jef Gray, KUA's vice president of information technology. "The system will be maintained and expanded using revenue earned from premium features like faster connection speeds."
KUA.net's wireless network is backed by a new Internet portal, http://wireless.kua.net. The page provides continuously updated content for residents and visitors alike.
"Having free Wi-Fi positions Kissimmee as a leading city for the application of new technology," said Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce President Mike Horner. "This will be a great economic development tool for Kissimmee."
Founded in 1901, KUA (www.kua.com) is Florida's sixth largest community-owned utility providing electric and telecommunication services to 170,000 residents in five Central Florida counties.