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Is Free Citywide WiFi Finally Coming To L.A.?

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(Photo by Charleston's TheDigitel via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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Los Angeles has been toying with the idea of free citywide WiFi for months now, but those thoughts have recently turned into more concrete plans.

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously decided to draft a request for proposals for businesses interested in developing the wireless network on Tuesday. The network's future develop would also have to ensure the city does not "significantly influence" private Internet carrier competition, according to City News Service.

Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who proposed the motion, said citywide WiFi would "bridge the digital divide," allowing those who can't afford internet connection to get online, as well as generate economic activity for the city.

Blumenfield acknowledged the logistical and financial hurdles of the plan, but said companies should think creatively about making citywide WiFi a reality.

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L.A. expects the fiber buildout to cost $3-$5 billion, but the cost would be borne by the vendor, ArsTechnica reports.

The last time the city tried to put citywide WiFi into place was 2007, under an initiative started by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Tony Cardenas. The city dropped the plan two years later because the estimated $38-$46 million in costs was too expensive.

The city could face challenges from private Internet carriers as well. Philadelphia ran into legal obstacles in 2005, reports CNS. Verizon sued the city, arguing the service displaced competition among carriers, and won the lawsuit. As a result, cities in Pennsylvania could only offer free Wifi at a slower speed than those offered by private companies.