Last May, the city launched a $115,000 pilot project to set up a free wireless internet signal spanning the Columbia City business district. The project was supposed to help bolster business in the area, as part of the Southeast Action Agenda.

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Residents were reporting weak wi-fi signals and spotty reception as early as June; the problems, which city officials said were due to interference from a tree, forced people to stand next to the wi-fi antennas to download e-mail [In Other Neighborhoods, June 16].

Five months later, the city's Department of Information Technology has torn down all of the equipment—except the signs declaring Columbia City a "Seattle Wi-Fi Hotspot"—because of faulty equipment. "It is a combination of a couple of things," says David Keyes, the Community Technology Program Manager. Keyes explains that it has been primarily attributed to the "access points," which distribute the wireless signal throughout the area.

Similar projects on the Ave, the City Hall Plaza, and in four downtown parks, all operated by the city's vendor, D-Link, have experienced few problems. Officials are now trying to decide whether to switch to an entirely new vendor in all the projects—which would force the city to buy all new equipment—or to just find a new vendor for Columbia City.

There are approximately 80 Columbia City businesses and nonprofit organizations that were slated to tap the wi-fi; thanks to word-of-mouth about 30 users a day were tapping into the free service. Meanwhile, the U-District service gets about 231 users a day and the parks have an average of 50.

"It's a total freakin' failure," says Kate Gill at Lottie's Lounge—a coffee shop by day, and bar by night. "Customers come from far away, they want to work and order stuff, and then you have to tell them the wi-fi's not working. They drink and leave." If customers need internet access, Gill is forced to refer them to the library, or even Starbucks (which charges for wi-fi access).

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"To be most fair, rather than promise a false date to the community, as soon as we know dates, then we'll share," stated Keyes.


GEORGETOWN: Neighbors from around the city have met at the Georgetown Gospel Chapel every Thursday night for the last three months to strategize against a controversial Southwest Airlines proposal to shift commercial flights from Sea-Tac Airport to Boeing Field. Residents were finalizing plans to flood an October 12 King County Council meeting to testify against the proposal when they got shocking news: County Executive Ron Sims—one of the only people in the region enamored with the plan—killed it Tuesday morning, October 11. "I get to have my life back!" says a thrilled Kathy Nyland, a Georgetown resident and business owner, and one of the lead neighborhood organizers. "I can't believe he did it. Sims wasn't taking our arguments against noise and traffic seriously, and suddenly these are the valid points. I'm stunned." Sims spokesman Sandeep Kaushik explained that the addition of a competing Alaska Airlines proposal complicated the issue, making it "exceedingly unlikely that there was any way we could meet the criteria" to limit noise, traffic, and taxpayer subsidy. WEDGWOOD: For nine years, this quiet neighborhood has lived with just two cafes—Greatful Bread (known for its bagels) and Cafe Van Gogh. In the past few months, however, several competitors have moved in: Top Pot Doughnuts, Starbucks, and Cafe Javasti, all Seattle-based chains. That fact seems to be lost on at least one knee-jerk neighbor: Flyers have sprung up, asking folks to "Boycott Starbucks in Wedgwood! Choose local." GREEN LAKE: Skatepark activists are taking advantage of a city budget surplus, and plan to lobby the city council for extra funds for a Lower Woodland skatepark. There's already $650,000 in the bank for the park, but advocates say the proposed skatepark has a $1.1 million price tag. WALLINGFORD: Retail tenants at Wallingford Center report that Lorig Management Services (LMS)—their landlord—has offered "encouraging" breaks to help the businesses stay afloat in the center. That's a huge turnaround from September 21, when tenants and neighbors screamed at the landlord about problems at the center: vacancies, flagging foot traffic, and lackluster management. [ "Dead Center," September 29.] Now, Lorig is letting some tenants skip common-area charges—while others won't have to pay any rent—for the next six months. Barry Blanton, president of LMS, declined to confirm specifics, but says Lorig is happy to be helping their tenants now. - AJ

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