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Smart sidewalks? A new pavement provides free Wi-Fi

An English town has launched a new initiative to provide free Wi-Fi through its pavements.

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    Virgin Media, a telecommunications company in the UK, has developed 'smart pavements' that provide free Wi-Fi to pedestrians.
    Courtesy of Virgin Media
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While walking down the streets, pedestrians in the town of Chesham, Buckinghamshire in Britain, will soon be able to tap into Wi-Fi service from under their feet.

Telecommunications company Virgin Media and a local district council has launched an initiative that makes unlimited Wi-Fi service available for free to visitors, businesses, and local residents.

Known as smart Wi-Fi pavement, the service provides connectivity via submerged access points linked directly to Virgin's street cabinets, which are connected to the fiber-optic network, explains Virgin Media.

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"These submerged access points are actually concealed under manhole covers in the pavement, as well as other 'street furniture' such as lamp posts. The manhole covers are made from a specially developed resin that allows radio signals to pass through it," the Telegraph reported.

"The internet is at the heart of modern life," said Chesham's Member of Parliament Cheryl Gillan, "and it is brilliant to have such a cutting-edge network in Chesham and to be right at the vanguard of connectivity in the UK. It will keep the community connected, help Chesham people save some money on their mobile bill and could be a key piece of the jigsaw in connected cities moving forward."

In many developed nations, high-speed internet has become a necessity. This summer New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $10 million investment in bringing high-speed broadband to New Yorkers who live in public housing.  

"Like electricity in the 1800s, the Internet is now an essential building block of economic opportunity," he wrote for the Huffington Post. He continued:

It doesn't just connect us to our friends and family through Skype or Facebook. It links us to job opportunities, critical services, and troves of information. It allows us to check whether our children have homework, take advantage of new education tools, or build a business. More and more each day, the Internet – like electricity – is turning into a basic utility. And this critical resource should be treated as such.

De Blasio’s program works with President Obama’s ConnectHome initiative, which is bringing cheaper and easier internet access to residents of public housing across the country, in an effort to bridge the "digital divide" between the haves and have-nots.

Virgin Media's press release says the company chose to work with Chesham "as the local authority is actively engaged with the local people in trying to find ways to enhance the area for both residents and businesses."

Martin Parkes, a local business owner, noted that Chesham's high street has primarily independent shops, without "the IT infrastructure that big chains benefit from."

He added, "This will hugely help leveling the playing field."

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