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Wi-Fi poised for launch today

TECHNOLOGY -- After weeks of testing, city is ready to unveil wireless Internet service

Forest Grove will launch a wireless Internet service Wednesday morning that will allow anyone with a computer and a wireless card to access the Internet free of charge downtown.

Once the system is live, a network of wireless Internet 'radios' will cast a net of connectivity about two-thirds of a square mile in size. Unlike the wireless program launched in Portland last week, the city will manage the network and there will be no advertising imposed on users.

The city has so far invested about $13,000 in setup costs and expects the program to cost a bit more than $3,300 a year to operate. A $60,000 donation from Intel, part of the company's global initiative to increase access to the Internet, covered the rest of the project's start-up costs.

The city has been testing the network for the last week and is confident that most of the bugs have been worked out. But since the program is new territory for city staffers, they're expecting that the network may hiccup a bit as it gets off the ground this week.

'We realize that there are going to be some things that we're going to have to work through and we ask that people be patient,' said Gretchen Roberts, who manages the city's computer networks.

Most of the coverage from the new wireless network will be focused on downtown, dodging residential areas almost entirely.

For Bruce Eaton, whose Internet cafe on Main Street has offered free wireless for more than two years, it's not clear what being in the cloud of city wireless will do for his business.

He hasn't heard a word about the new program from his customers, but he expects the new network to be a hit.

'I think ultimately it's a good thing, just because it brings better access for everyone,' Eaton said.

Eaton said that some of the luckiest wireless users will be those with wireless-enabled PDAs (personal digital assistants) or handheld devices like Sony's Playstation Portable.

But Eaton warns that PC users should be wary of the effect computer viruses and spyware can have on their computers.

'The number of viruses that you're going to be going past and through is going to increase, whereas we use a firewall in and out so there's only three or four people on the network at any time,' Eaton said.