Free Internet proves popular with troops

A pair of Internet cafes serving 15,000 U.S. troops in Iraq saw their typical usage double when the service provider waived fees for the July 4 holiday, increasing to about 4,100 log-ins on Independence Day.

The two CamoCafes were established about a year ago by Arkel International of Baton Rouge, La., a logistics, construction and support contractor operating in Iraq. They have 80 desktop PC kiosks and also support wireless access for laptops. Arkel has the contract with the bases to provide the service and Single Digits Inc. of Manchester, N.H., provides the infrastructure and technical support.

The connections can be used for videoconferencing, e-mail, Web access or any other Internet service.

Single Digits provides WiFi wireless access in the cafes, a 6-Mbps satellite Internet link, together with authentication, accounting, remote monitoring and security and 24-by-7 support services. It also designed, configured and supported installation of the equipment. Hardware is from Proxim Wireless Corp. of Milpitas, Calif.

'We get about 2,000 log-ins a day,' said Single Digits chief executive officer Bob Goldstein. Most are from privately owned laptops using the wireless access, although the kiosks turn over every three or four hours. 'We're elated that more than 4,000 of our U.S. troops based in Iraq used the free wireless access to connect with family and loved ones around the world on such a celebratory day as July 4th.'

Fees for Internet use are in the neighborhood of $5 an hour, or less than $100 for a monthly subscription. Users can sign up with a credit card and authenticate to the system with a user name and password, or can pay at the caf' for an access code. For Independence, the system was switched to a click-to-connect option with no authentication required for signing on.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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