Capitol Hill gets free hotspot today

On the steps of the Supreme Court, officials of the Open Park Project of Washington and Tropos Networks Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., today turned on the first pair of about six IEEE 802.11b WiFi cells and invited the public to surf.

Open Park cofounder Greg Staple called the free WiFi zone 'a hotspot for democracy' and said it will extend by next spring along the National Mall to the Washington Monument. Current coverage includes the areas around the Supreme Court, Library of Congress and future Capitol Visitor Center, as well as the central Mall. 'We haven't tested inside any of the historic buildings,' Staple said.

Gifts and loans to the nonprofit group covered the initial costs, he said. Open Park hopes to raise about $200,000 to cover installation and operation through spring of 2005. Tropos Networks made 'a substantial donation' of equipment and services, Staple said.

Tropos spokesman Bert Williams said the company will donate enough of its Tropos 5110 WiFi cells, each consisting of a wireless access point and router, to 'cover the Mall route through a wireless mesh.' The company's mesh topology will need only one wired Ethernet connection; each cell routes to its neighbors to form what Tropos calls 'metro-scale WiFi networks.'

Signs will instruct Capitol Hill visitors to go to to use the free service.

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