EarthLink to Unwire Arlington County, Va.

EarthLink has been picked by Arlington County in Virginia to provide a county-wide Wi-Fi network. The deal has been in the works for several months, going back to the date of EarthLink’s first announced network in Anaheim, California.

The network, once fully installed, will cover 26 square miles and provide wireless broadband for residents and visitors, as well as connections for on-the-move county employees. Yet-to-be-determined nonprofit partners of the county would likely get free access, and free hotspot service will be provided in parks, libraries and community centers.

Arlington County is the smallest county in the United States at 26 square miles, with approximately 200,000 residents (a breeze to deploy, compared to, for example, Philadelphia’s 1.46 million people in 147 square miles). Arlington is primarily urban/suburban, made up of unincorporated neighborhoods but no distinct towns, according to Wikipedia. It’s located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. — the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery are both found there. In 2005, the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties (NACo) named Arlington one of the Top 10 Digital Counties (with less than 250,000 residents) in the United States.

Arlington is no stranger to Wi-Fi, having already installed hotspots at the Courthouse Plaza adjacent to the County Government Center, as well as at several library branches.

Last December, the county announced plans to use Proxim equipment to build a network specifically for use by first responders. However, that wasn’t necessarily a “county-wide” network, as it apparently consisted of Proxim Tsunami MP.11 5054R and 2454R products, to be found specifically in mobile command vehicles and in the county command center.

EarthLink traditionally uses equipment from Tropos Networks and Motorola, and works with Motorola as an integrator for the deployment of networks. Yesterday, the WISP’s municipal networks business said it would be working with integrated marketing firm Hauser Group for “strategic and creative services, media planning and buying, as well as tactical support.” Hauser will do media buys that “literally [use] the whole city as a communications canvas,” to spread the word on municipal networks as they open. Hauser is also based in Atlanta with EarthLink.

Still, this is not yet a done deal for EarthLink — the Arlington County Board must first give its approval. This is expected to happen at their meeting on April 28.

In addition to Anaheim, EarthLink has networks or pending service in the cities of Corpus Christi (which EarthLink took over); Milpitas, California; New Orleans and Philadelphia. Its hometown of Atlanta is also planning to let EarthLink deploy. The company continues to hope for the best regarding a joint operation with Google in San Francisco — and Milwaukee, Wisconsin may also be in its future. This network, like EarthLink’s others, will offer wholesale access to other providers such as PeoplePC (an EarthLink subsidiary) and Vonage . Vonage is best known for its VoIP services, but won’t be the only company with phones: EarthLink has plans to offer customers Wi-Fi phones made by Accton.

Through the end of this year, owners of the $400 Nokia N800 Internet Tablet (see review) can get free access to the Internet via any EarthLink municipal Wi-Fi network when they download the EarthLink Wi-Fi / Feather Connection Wizard.

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