City continues Internet freebie

LaGrange, Ga., extends its popular offer to give residents free Internet access through cable modems

LaGrange, Ga., which made headlines last year by offering its residents free Internet access via cable modem, is extending the pilot program so even more people can take advantage of it.

Since the free offer began last summer, city officials (www.lagrange-ga.org) have worked to increase the amount of local content online in hopes that having more information relevant to residents will encourage the town's technology holdouts to get hooked up.

Of the residents who haven't taken the city up on the offer, City Manager Tom Hall said they're either advanced computer users or people who don't think using the Internet will be useful to them.

To jump-start the local content, the city recently offered free Web platforms to all local nonprofit organizations. So far, about 80 community groups, including churches, neighborhoods and scouting troops, have set up sites.

"We're trying to get everybody literate with the use of technology," Hall said. "We know not everybody is interested in the Internet, but knowing what goes on at their kids' school is important or what's going on at their church is important."

Last year, the city attracted national attention by offering free Internet access via cable television to everyone in the city for one year. The extension of the pilot program will give new and current enrollees free access.

About half of LaGrange's approximately 10,000 residents now have Internet access. Of those, 15 percent get it through the cable modems. The free cable access whet some residents' technology appetites, as many of the original participants have "graduated" to computers, Hall said.

Although Internet TV enables people to surf the Web, it can be limiting because users can't add supplemental software programs, as they would on a computer.

The city, which doesn't collect property taxes, is funding the effort with profits from the sale of telecommunications services to businesses. Hall expects the program will cost $150,000 for the coming year.

The city also is offering free online education opportunities through a partnership with eMercer, a distance learning division of Mercer University.

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