It might soon be possible to fire up your tablet and surf the Internet at Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park while the kids splash in the fountains and tumble in the grass.
That's the vision behind Mayor Bob Buckhorn's call to private companies to bid on installing wireless access along the Hillsborough River waterfront and in major parks downtown. In return, the company that wins the bid can put its transmission equipment on city property and possibly make a buck by selling online ads and charging for service beyond the free zones.
We think the plan makes sense on a number of levels. By putting it out to bid, the city gets a sense of the potential envisioned by private enterprise. More importantly, leaving it to a private company minimizes the city's fiscal liability.
If the parks were to get free access, they would join the City Council chambers and other city buildings where Internet access points were established in February. But that Wi-Fi access cost the city about $9,500 for the equipment and installation and will cost about $5,000 annually in maintenance.
Providing free Internet access in major parks would help attract visitors and be a bonus for downtown residents. "What it'll do is extend the reason to use the parks and the Riverwalk," said Christine Burdick, the Tampa Downtown Partnership president.
Getting online is fast becoming an expectation no matter where people are these days. Having it available in public areas that attract crowds seems like an inevitability.
Let's hope this becomes a private-public venture that fulfills its promise.