Ga. town 'Intelligent City of the Year'

Just several months after wiring its entire population into the Internet,

the city of LaGrange.Ga., is being called America's first "Intelligent City

of the Year."

The World Teleport Association, a nonprofit trade group that promotes broadband

technology to improve economic development, bestowed the honor on the city

and its 27,000 residents. LaGrange beat out the likes of London, New York,

Chicago, Toronto. Last year the award was presented to Singapore.

The real honor "is the investment this community has made in broadband infrastructure

since 1992," said Joe Maltese, the city's director of community and economic

development,

LaGrange, located 60 miles southwest of Atlanta, has a 60-mile fiber-optic

network and a 150-mile broadband hybrid fiber-optic and cable network. Earlier

this year, the city council decided to offer its residents and businesses

free Internet access through their cable televisions. Several other U.S.

cities offer Internet service to their residents, but at a cost.

Of the city's roughly 10,000 households, Maltese said 4,000 have requested

the service and 2,200 have been installed so far. The city installs upwards

of 100 systems a day. Residents must have basic cable, which costs less

than $9 per month, to plug in to the Internet. Ninety-one percent of the

households have cable, Maltese said.

Residents are provided at no charge a digital box to convert the TV screen

into a computer monitor and a wireless keyboard. However, Maltese said the

Internet browser does not support most plug-ins, has no audio and very limited

streaming video. He added that if a family cannot afford cable service,

then the city would help out.

"We see it as a tool for the lifelong learning environment," Maltese said,

adding that the project was an opportunity to introduce technology to the

city's residents and make them more digitally literate, competent and proficient.

He said the project was always designed to be a work force development issue.

He said the city would now look toward providing educational programming

and content through partnerships with other companies.

First-year operating costs are about $300,000 and capital costs $125,000.

Maltese said he didn't know whether the city would fully or partially cover

the operating costs in the future.

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