By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 32 minutes ago
HERMISTON, Ore. - Parked alongside his onion fields, Bob Hale can prop open a laptop and read his e-mail or, with just a keystroke, check the moisture of his crops.
While cities around the country are battling over plans to offer free or cheap Internet access, this lonely terrain is served by what is billed as the world's largest hotspot, a wireless cloud that stretches over 700 square miles of landscape so dry and desolate it could have been lifted from a cowboy tune.
Similar wireless projects have been stymied in major metropolitan areas by telephone and cable TV companies, which have poured money into legislative bills aimed at discouraging such competition. In Philadelphia, for instance, plans to blanket the entire city with Wi-Fi fueled a battle in the Pennsylvania legislature with Verizon Communications Inc., leading to a law that limits the ability of every other municipality in the state to do the same.
But here among the thistle, large providers such as local phone company Qwest Communications International Inc. see little profit potential. So wireless entrepreneur Fred Ziari drew no resistance for his proposed wireless network, enabling him to quickly build the $5 million cloud at his own expense.
Ziara's company built the towers to match the topography. They are as close as a quarter-of-a-mile apart inside towns like Hermiston, and as far apart as several miles in the high-desert wilderness.
Asked why other municipalities have had a harder time succeeding, he replies: "Politics."
"The 'Who's-going-to-get-a-piece-of-the action?' has been a big part of the obstacles," said Karen Hanley, senior marketing director of the Austin, Texas-based Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group.