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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Event goal: keep HotZone hot

Technology advocates will gather Thursday in downtown Spokane to talk about future improvements to the area’s networks, celebrate a decade of accomplishments, and boost the area’s free wireless HotZone.

Event organizers will give an overview of efforts to spur economic development by producing a next-generation “gigapop” network. Spokane city officials hope to land $5 million in state financing to improve area connectivity to super-high-speed gigapop networks nationwide. Gigapop refers to speeds of 1 gigabit per second.

Organizers also hope to announce whether or not Spokane has been chosen as a finalist in the 2005 “most intelligent community” competition. Last year Spokane was a finalist, but the winner chosen by the group sponsoring the competition was Glasgow, Scotland.

Also on hand will be Steve Simmons, who will commemorate a decade of network development under the banner of the Terabyte Triangle. That term refers to the concentration of high-speed fiber and cable network capacity based in downtown Spokane.

Simmons, a computer science professor at Eastern Washington University, said that the event is also a chance to boost the free downtown HotZone, which offers high-speed, wireless Internet connections.

“We want to keep the HotZone a hot topic,” Simmons said. “It still hasn’t reached its potential.”

City officials and private businesses launched the wireless network last summer. It has two components: a municipal network used by city and county workers, and a consumer side in which anyone with the right kind of computer can log onto the Internet.

Use has been sporadic. During warmer weather, use was relatively steady, but in the colder winter months, it’s dropped off, said Chad Skidmore, president of 180 Networks, which provides the HotZone’s connectivity.

“That’s because, except in a few instances, it’s designed predominantly as an outdoor network,” he said.

Eventually, 180 Networks will start charging about $6 a day for using the consumer section of the zone, Skidmore said.

Simmons said one of his current volunteer jobs is to serve on a committee to generate more uses for the HotZone.

“I take it as my personal challenge to find the perfect application that helps make wider use of the downtown Wi-Fi zone,” he said.

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