On the day The New York Times published an editorial stating "local governments are filling a leadership void at the federal and state levels" when it comes to wireless Internet access, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue sat down in his office and quietly proved the nation's leading newspaper wrong. As of June 2006, nearly 250 cities nationwide had launched some kind of wireless service with virtually no support from state governments. Now Georgia is one of the first states in the country to push this growing trend to a new level of acceptance.

The governor made his move on May 19, 2006, announcing the availability of funding to help Georgia communities establish wireless broadband networks. But on June 6, he revealed why this initiative was of such importance to the state. "We still want Wi-Fi to be local government led," Perdue said. "But the role of the state as a partner is to inspire, encourage and 'incentivize' local governments to do what we believe will benefit their communities in our state."

The program will provide funding to at least three communities, although representatives from more than 100 showed up in Atlanta the day before to learn about the program, which will make $4 million available to kick-start wireless access. The program is managed by the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA), under the direction of state CIO Thomas Wade.

Perdue described the funding as seed money for a handful of cities that, hopefully, will lead to a broadband build-out across the state. "I do think it's the role of government to provide opportunities," he said. "I look forward to providing incentive money in the future, but this is the start."

From Multiplan to WiMax

The governor's term began Jan. 13, 2003, but his political career started a couple of decades earlier when he served on the Houston County Planning and Zoning Board. Later, he was elected to the Georgia Legislature and served in the General Assembly and Senate before launching his successful campaign for governor.

Perdue has used technology almost as long as he's been in politics. During an interview with Government Technology magazine, he recounted using 300 baud modems and Multiplan -- one of the first spreadsheets expressly designed to run on a PC. His interest and understanding of technology continue to this day, according to Wade, who said Perdue is an active user of BlackBerries, laptops and voice over Internet protocol. When discussions were under way over what wireless technology would best serve local communities, Perdue worked with GTA in evaluating 802.11 versus 802.16, the emerging protocol for WiMAX connectivity.

His desire to make broadband infrastructure part of his economic, education and overall government policy separates Perdue from other elected officials, said Wade and others who follow state government. "The governor wants to use broadband to connect the last mile," explained Wade, noting that the wireless initiative is designed to promote economic development, expand educational opportunities and improve government through online and mobile services.

Perdue made these points repeatedly. "Economically we have to do this to compete with Taiwan, Korea, China and other developing countries that have almost leapfrogged us with wireless connectivity. We're not trying to mimic them, but we realize the flow of information enables us to be more competitive in the 21st-century economy. So much of our work is information sharing and processing. That implies wireless connectivity."

Deke Copenhaver, mayor of Augusta, Ga., has expressed a strong interest in using Wi-Fi in his municipality. The city of 200,000 is the location of Fort Gordon, the U.S. Army's signal center and home to a major medical center. In response to Perdue's initial announcement earlier this year, the city set up a pilot Wi-Fi service in the Augusta Commons, a park near the city's center.

"I saw the possibilities for Wi-Fi in Augusta, and the pilot

Tod Newcombe  |  Contributing Editor