When the Arizona Legislature opens its session next January, members of the public in attendance will be able to draw on an extra productivity tool.
Cox Communications Inc.'s Phoenix system — in collaboration with Intel Corp.'s Intel Solution Services — will provide a wireless fidelity hotspot in the House and Senate galleries and other public areas of the state capitol.
People doing business with the legislature can access the Internet via a personal digital assistant or laptop computer equipped with an internal 802.11a/b wireless card, or with integrated wireless local area network capability.
The innovation was not meant for lawmakers: they have computers at their desks on the State House floor, which use wireline connections.
Legislators dubbed the project the POWER — Public Online Wireless Electronic Resource — Network.
"We are empowering the average person to actively participate in their government with electronic access to the same information as legislators and a live connection to the outside world," Sen. Dean Martin (R-N. Phoenix) said in a prepared statement.
Lawmakers noted that the Arizona government was deemed the most digital legislature in the country in 2002 by the Center for Digital Government and Government Technology magazine. Legislators expect the POWER Network to help the state maintain its superiority.
The project will cost Cox $109,104, including the cost of the hardware it's now installing plus five years of Internet access. Access is free to the public. Intel is spending another $58,000 to enable the Wi Fi hot spot.
"We see this as a chance to show the legislature we can save them money," said Ivan Johnson, vice president of communications and televideo. "It's a good demonstration to the rest of the state agencies."
The Wi Fi project is the result of a relationship with lawmakers that has developed over the years, Johnson said. Cox has utilized its contacts to leverage new products into government offices.
For instance, the operator provides high-speed data connections to the state House of Representatives.
Perhaps the biggest coup: convincing the state government to switch the telephone service in the House and Senate from incumbent Qwest Communications International Inc. to Cox's telephony product. The state made the changeover this year, even though it meant all the current phone numbers would experience a change in prefix.
Cox even got a "commercial" out of the deal, Johnson noted. As switch was made, citizens who dialed the old numbers got a recording notifying them of the new contact information.
The message apologized for the inconvenience, but noted the state is saving $600,000 a year by switching to Cox, Johnson said.
Services such as the Wi Fi project for the Capitol — and Cable in the Classroom in the schools — give the operator's services exposure to tens of thousands of people and generate business over the long term, Johnson said.
Cox's work with the legislature earned the cable provider a spot on the state's "preferred provider" list, a guide referred to by state agencies when they pursue new contracts.