Though Arizona's Capitol building boasts full Internet capabilities through a fiber-optic network, the network was previously accessible only to legislators and staff members.
Sen. Dean Martin discovered this the hard way when elected to the Arizona Legislature in 2000.
"I came down to the Capitol building for a lame duck special session right after I was elected," Martin said. "I couldn't get a physical office or access to anything because the current legislators who were leaving were still there. So although we have a lot of things online -- all the bills and amendments -- the problem is that at the Capitol itself, you can't get to any of it.
"If you're not a legislator, there's a lot of dead time at the Capitol waiting for meetings or conferences," Martin continued, noting that if visitors to the Capitol could access the Internet, not only could they track legislative activity while waiting, they could also check e-mail, report back to their offices and stay in touch with family members.
"More people could come to the Capitol to participate because they wouldn't be separated from their offices and homes," he said.
This was the beginning of the Public Online Wireless Electronic Resource (P.O.W.E.R.) Network.
Making the Connection
Though Martin convinced other legislators of Internet connectivity's value to the public, two issues needed to be solved: security and cost.
The IT security team at the Capitol insisted the existing network not be publicly accessible, so a wireless network -- one operating parallel to and independent of the existing one -- was proposed.
Legislators also wanted to keep expenses as low as possible because there was no real public outcry for wireless Internet access at the Capitol or an immediate benefit.
"We didn't spend any state money," Martin said.
Instead, three companies donated services and products for what became a test market. Cox Communications donated excess network capacity and staff support for the initial set-up; Intel provided wireless capability; and hotZona, a local ISP, offered to manage user authentication and host the logon site.
Although the companies were not paid for the products and services they contributed, they have received extensive labeling and publicity.
"We had a substantial fiber investment at the Capitol, and this was an opportunity for us to demonstrate an advanced technology solution for government and to do so in partnership with Intel," said Kevin Moran, director of government relations for Cox Communications.
Even with the promise of a free wireless network without access to the Legislature's internal workings, Martin said the IT department was still wary.
"They wanted to make sure they didn't end up as a gigantic support system," he said. "But we've set it up so that the internal tech support system doesn't support Wi-Fi on an end-user basis. Each end-user is responsible for his or her own computer."
Implementation did take some time, mostly because the companies were donating everything.
"You don't get priority installation when it's free," said Martin.
The installation went smoothly, however, because the House and Senate leaders have control over their buildings.
Through the first four months of 2004, hotZona logged more than 750 P.O.W.E.R. users with nearly 1,200 login hours -- meaning users averaged 1.5 hours online. P.O.W.E.R. also averages 50 to 60 new users each month, which bodes well for future projects in Arizona and elsewhere.
"We've expanded service within the building to give broader access to users," said Martin. "We've also had a number of other legislatures call to say they want to do this themselves."
Despite the rapid growth in use, the wireless