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RCA Explores Wireless

Board member proposes Reston as next WiFi hotspot.

As of last April, people in Annapolis, Md. could flip open their laptop and start surfing the Internet or checking email — for free and just about anywhere.

Three months ago, the city had a ribbon cutting — wire cutting — ceremony to celebrate its city-wide WiFi launch.

The WiFi technology allows people with receiving devices, like a computer or personal digital assistant, to connect to the Internet wirelessly as long as they are close enough to an access point. Making a whole region laden with access points classifies it as a hotspot.

Annapolis is one of many cities that has pursued and achieved a policy to become a public hotspot, but unlike other cities, like Philadelphia and Houston, taxpayers in Maryland’s capitol didn’t spend a dime.

Instead, the city offered sponsorships and advertising to local businesses on the opening Web page to fund the initiative.

IF IT WERE up to Gary Lee Thomas, Reston would be the region’s next public hotspot.

The electrical engineer presented the idea to fellow board members of the Reston Citizens Association last Monday at the organization’s monthly meeting. Hoping to generate interest, Thomas said the initiative was at “stage zero,” but could move forward quickly if backed by the full board.

Since Reston is loaded with tech-companies, Thomas figured the planned community should at least give it a try. In addition, Thomas thinks the effort could help RCA promote its chief goal of making Reston a town.

“The whole idea of wireless, I think, would help us with the town issue,” said Thomas at the meeting.

SEVERAL BOARD MEMBERS expressed enthusiasm about the idea. “We could be a testbed … for the rest of the county,” said Mike Corrigan, the organization’s president, who pointed out that Reston-based Sprint-Nextel has long been active in the wireless field.

After discussing the idea, Thomas requested that the board create a committee to spearhead the effort. “What I’d like the board to do is create a committee to show that there is an interest to do this.”

Since some members of the board were unfamiliar with WiFi, RCA Board Member Jim Hubbard asked Thomas to better define the scope and purpose of the committee, which prompted the board to defer a decision.

As an alternative, RCA passed a resolution tasking Thomas with a “scoping exercise” to briefly explore the WiFi prospect and report back next month with more information.

The board plans to vote on the creation of a WiFi committee at its next meeting.