Students with laptop computers would be able to surf the web and do homework while riding the bus home from school, and education leaders would be able to deploy mobile computers in their schools without investing in costly wireless access points, if a Georgia county’s plans to go all wireless come to fruition.

Computer chip maker Intel Corp. is talking with officials in middle Georgia’s Houston County about debuting a new wireless internet technology in 2004. The service, called 802.16 or WiMax, could make Houston County the first completely wireless county in the nation, company officials say.

If the deal pans out, subscribers to the service–including parents with home computers and students and staff members in local schools–could go online from anywhere in the county without plugging their computer into any phone jacks, cable outlets, or other immobile connections.

The service also could be expanded across the state.

“I would like to highlight Georgia nationally as a state that other states should look to to move into a wireless model,” said Terry Smithson, education marketing manager for Intel.

But plenty of details would need to be ironed out first.

Key among them: Who would pay the estimated $2 million needed for communication towers and other startup costs?

At least some local officials hope to make such a plan work, initial costs notwithstanding.

“I heard about it and thought it would just be a tremendous opportunity for Houston County to get involved at the ground floor,” said Matt Stone, a councilman in the city of Warner Robins, Ga., who has attended meetings with Intel.

Intel would help the county get started by providing experts to study the issue and possibly selling the necessary startup equipment, but it would not provide the internet service.

“Our hope has really been to have a community effort with a cooperative public-private partnership,” Stone said.

Morgan Law, executive director of the Houston County Development Authority, said the service could boost the county’s ability to attract and retain businesses.

Law said it would catch the eye of many high-tech military contractors, such as those already located around Robins Air Force Base, as long as the service could promise security.

“The one concern is the security of wireless,” Law said. “A lot of the government contractors rely on heavy security, and as long as that concern could be alleviated I think it would be something that would interest them.”

Local governments–including the county commission and board of education–are expected to consider non-binding votes to pursue the wireless technology in the next week or so.

They would then meet with Intel representatives in January to discuss the proposal in more detail.

Intel has named Houston County High School one of its model schools and has donated a $30,000 wireless technology lab to the school.


Intel Corp.

Houston County High School