Climb Every Mountain

July 15, 2005
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The Jeep King of the Mountain series mountain biking event is many things to many people. To the 16 bicycle racers coming from as far away as Australia to ply their trade, Saturday's race is one step toward a world championship. For the owners of local businesses — including Pando ski area — it is a welcome (if unexpected) opportunity to cash in on some well-heeled tourist traffic. It is a chance for Grand Rapids to divorce itself from the nationwide stereotype of Midwesterners as fat, sedentary lumps.

But — make no mistake — this is first and foremost a chance for Jeep to sell a lifestyle. Once they sell the lifestyle, the cars are bound to follow.

"Let's face it, if you're interested in mountain biking and an active outdoor lifestyle, you probably have a Jeep product," said HenrySchneidman, president of the production company broadcasting the event. Then, breaking from the sales pitch, he reconsidered his wording. "Or could I say 'should have'? In fact, if you will say 'should have,' that would help me a lot."

Because, in the end, it's not really as much about two-wheeled modes of transportation as it is about the four-wheeled variety.

Another tip for the uninitiated: LanceArmstrong does not participate in this event.

  • Acknowledging that the whole Phase 1/Phase 2 thing was a whole lot of "wishful thinking," city of Grand Rapids Wireless Project Manager Sally Wesorick reaffirmed that the remaining six Wi-Fi test sites would be up by last Friday, or at least by July 22.

"July 1 probably was unrealistic, I think," she said. "Partly because of the holiday, but also just to coordinate 10 different networks all at once."

The Grand Rapids Community Media Center is hosting a kick-off event for its site tomorrow. "Wi-Fi Day" at the CMC's Wealthy Theatre campus will unveil the organization's drop-in training program for local residents new to wireless Internet.

During the event, the CMC will likely announce a new partnership with Comprenew Environmental Trust — an electronics recycling firm based in Rockford. The CMC will be giving away several computer systems — donated by Comprenew and Structure Interactive — to Southeast-side families who might otherwise fall on the far side of the digital divide. Both Comprenew and the CMC have indicated a desire to make this an ongoing program.

One vendor did make its mark, as Arialink Broadband had its kickoff party last week at the Van Belkum Branch Library on Plainfield Avenue in the Creston Heights Business District. The cigar-shaped, quarter-mile site has been operational since July 1, with access points atop Creston High School and a building adjacent to the library.

Lansing-based Arialink was also at the center of the region's biggest wireless broadband announcement last week, as Muskegon County named the outfit as its partner in its Digital Divide pilot.

Muskegon released an RFP in November as one of two counties selected by the state for the Digital Divide Investment Program, a broadband grant and loan package worth $4.2 million to provide affordable high-speed Internet service to low and moderate income families.

In the first phase of deployment, funded by a $2.2 million grant, Arialink will provide wireless Internet connections to five lower-income rural communities — Cedar Creek, Egelston, Holton and Moorland townships and the village of Lakewood Club.

From there, Arialink will spread that network throughout the entire county, laying fiber-optic line to all four corners and deploying Wi-Fi canopies where appropriate for economic development, such as the Lakeshore and downtown Muskegon.

"Wireless gets us out to the community quickly," said Arialink vice president Ray Signs. "We'll have wireless backbones run throughout the county, and the second phase of projects will be a fiber build. Wireless is great, but at the end of the day what we really want is to have as much bandwidth to the customer as possible."

For the first three years of service, Arialink is locked by the grant into a monthly price of $18.99 for basic service, with a $25 installation fee.

A noticeable difference between Arialink's work in Grand Rapids and the Muskegon network, however, is that the lakeshore town will not be an all-inclusive hot zone. For the majority of homes, a desktop or house-mounted antenna is needed, which is included in the package. The Creston hot zone, like most of the test sites, won't even work for the majority of residents unless they go outside (NeoCon 2006 prediction: backyard office systems).

One other thing: When is someone in Grand Rapids going to start talking about grants?

The City Commission approved a $150,000 consulting budget for Wi-Fi last week with the DDA chipping in $50,000. The plan appears to pass that cost along to the eventual vendor, essentially charging $150,000 to build a more complicated system than the one Muskegon County is giving Arialink $4.3 million to deploy.

So, has anyone at Hot Spots Cool City applied for its namesake Cool City grant yet?

It's not without precedent; Arialink is deploying a cluster of hot zones in downtown East Lansing as part of a Cool Cities grant.

  • The National Hockey League's new collective bargaining agreement is all well and good for sports fans, but it has some local significance, too.

BobMcNamara, general manager of the Grand Rapids Griffins, expects to host a Red and White game this year at Van Andel Arena, featuring players from parent club Detroit Red Wings.

The game, which sells out quickly, usually pumps about $70,000 into the coffers of local charities. That's just another reason to root for hockey this season.

  • What would you rather have, citywide Wi-Fi hotspots or open city pools and softball leagues? Vote this week at the Journal's Web site, grbj.com    

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