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Charter, Embarq not worried about free Wi-Fi in Kingsport

SHARON CASKEY HAYES • May 5, 2007 at 1:36 AM

KINGSPORT - Charter Communications and Embarq don't see free wireless Internet service in Kingsport as a threat to their Internet business here.

"I really don't think it will have any impact on Charter," said Charter General Manager Tony Falin. "Really you're talking about apples and oranges."

Charter and Embarq offer landline connections for high-speed Internet service in the Kingsport area.

On Thursday, Eastman Credit Union and the Kingsport Housing & Redevelopment Authority's Greater Kingsport Alliance for Development announced the expansion of Wireless Fidelity - or Wi-Fi - in the city.

The new service allows individuals with a Wi-Fi enabled laptop, PDA or cell phone to access the Internet free of charge in several areas, including downtown Kingsport, Riverview, and the Borden Mill and Meadowview areas.

Eastman Credit Union is footing the bill for the service, and Kingsport-based Tele-Optics is implementing the network.

Embarq spokesman Tom Matthews said his company does not view the new service as a threat. Indeed, Embarq is furnishing some bandwidth for the system.

"We wouldn't expect it to have a significant impact because it's my understanding it's set up more as a convenience type of network. I mean, you're not going to be able to have somebody who does a tremendous amount of uploading and downloading parking downtown and setting up their office in their car or something," Matthews said.

He said typical Wi-Fi networks limit bandwidth and the amount of time a user can spend online.

"I think they will be monitoring to make sure there is not too much of a drain in one place or another," Matthews said.

Plus, he said, typical Wi-Fi service offers less speed than traditional wired connections, "and it would be diluted as more and more people use it," he said.

"But from the perspective of having it as a convenience and having Kingsport being more inviting for people who are from out of town and need a short-term connection, we're happy to be part of the consortium that is putting this together," Matthews said.

Falin, who serves on the Kingsport Economic Development Board, said Charter also supports the new network.

"I think it's a good thing for downtown," Falin said. "For a wired, stable connection like you would want at home or for a business, it's probably not what you're looking for.

"But if you're going to go downtown and eat lunch and want to take your laptop with you and do a little work, it's really good for that type of stuff," he said.

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