citybeat (2005-46)

Cameras in Campbell County

Cities Unwired

What’s stopping Knoxville from taking the Wi-Fi plunge?

In those early morning hours, students began to show their young faces, crumpled with tears, as they fastened signs to and threaded flowers through the chain link fence encircling Campbell County Comprehensive High.

Camera crews readied pieces to lead the morning news, and photographers utilized their zoom lenses so as not to impinge too much on students.

“People come up to the gate, and we give them their time and their space, and as they’re walking away, we go up and ask them, ‘What can you tell us? Who did you know? Were you there?’ And that sort of thing,” says Mark Schynder, reporter with Knoxville’s WBIR, Channel 10. Schynder, who also prepared an afternoon spot for MSNBC, was one of a half dozen WBIR reporters on location that day.

WBIR reporter Herryn Riendeau spoke of the difficulty of approaching a newly grieving family: “It was a really sad scene, of course, because the family of the victim was just finding out what had happened and that he died.”

Tuesday evening, Riendeau lingered in the lobby of the hospital where Assistant Principal Ken Bruce had just died of a gunshot wound to the chest and where alleged gunman 15-year-old Ken Bartley Jr. was treated for an injury. “Some people want to talk about it. Some people don’t, and they get mad about it,” says Riendeau. “I was waiting to talk to the sheriff, and one of the family members came up to me and was like, ‘You’re not waiting for interviews,’ and was just kind of a little bit hostile, which you can understand. And I said, ‘No I’m waiting for the sheriff.’ That kind of gave me the indication that they didn’t want to talk right away. But that’s the worst part of the job, certainly, having to go up to people after a family member dies.”

Shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday, a press conference began at the Campbell County Courthouse. District Attorney Paul Phillips prefaced his announcements by saying, “Initially the law enforcement needed the cooperation of the media.… We’re now entering a new phase where we have to be very restricted in what we say.… We have to only release what information we can ethically and lawfully release.”

Phillips then asked law enforcement officials not to speak further with the media. After getting some of their questions answered but most others avoided, reporters returned to the schoolyard to flesh out their stories for the day.

“In a case like this, where the officials aren’t being exactly forthright, we’re hearing a lot of rumors from people off the record, and we’re just trying to confirm everything and just kind of reconstruct how something like this could happen,” says Herman Wang, staff writer with the Chattanooga Times Free Press . Much of this supposition transpired between huddled reporters, the ringleader being Michael Siwinski, publisher of Journal-Leader, a Campbell County weekly. Siwinksi strolled the grounds all afternoon, puffed his pipe, snapped pictures and spoke with a half-remembered Polish accent. He marveled to visiting media about Campbell County’s poor fortune, pointing out its pitiful track record as of late, what with headlining stories about incest, rape and drug abuse.

Though most remarked they were surprised by the dearth of national news media on site, a ruggedly handsome CNN anchor with very white teeth and very bronze makeup stood adjacent to the ring of reporters and broadcast live nearly once an hour.

Also on site were reporters from a TV station out of Lexington, Ky. “We ran out of local news, so we decided to come take your news,” says a crew member.

Throughout the day, information shared among reporters sometimes strayed from the school shooting. Sometimes, a reporter laughed aloud at some such story, and the laugh rang icy and irreverent. Though unintentional, it prickled the ears of nearby community members.

Most reporters say they don’t worry that they may be exploiting their interview subjects. Instead, they insist that it’s healing for people to talk things out. Some visiting students and parents actually approached reporters looking for answers to their questions.

“A lot of them want you there,” says Gordon Boyd, WVLT Channel 8 anchor/reporter. “Because it’s a way, in some cases, for them to vent, to make a point. My first question usually is, ‘Is there something you want said about the person involved in whatever’s occurred? Is there something you feel needs to get out there?’”

Some sensitive things, Boyd says, he instinctively knows not to prod about.

Schynder says that, despite the dismal circumstances, he enjoys reporting sad stories because of the perspective he hopes to bring to them.

“I’ve been in this business a long time, and I’ve covered incidents like this, and you’ve got to be gentle with people and give people their space. Oftentimes if you do that, you’re able to get what you’re looking for, which is emotion.”

 

Cities Unwired

And why shouldn’t they? Glen Hughes, Asheville’s information specialist, says of his city’s decision to go wireless earlier this year: “I think the community recognized the service of free Wi-Fi as something that’s become almost a necessity, both for folks that are either visiting or living in the downtown area.”

An estimated 300 cities and towns across the country are either operating, installing or planning Wi-Fi networks. Philadelphia leads the way in provision of municipal Wi-Fi, having just secured a $15 million contract with Earthlink to stretch a 135-square-mile broadband blanket across the city. According to the deal, laptop users will be able to access free Wi-Fi in public places, while businesses and homes have the option of subscribing to the service for a minimal fee. A similar movement is taking place in San Francisco, where Google recently submitted a proposal to provide free wireless Internet for the entire city.

To date, Knoxville’s taken few steps toward acquiring its own wireless cloud, although city planners are conscious of the option. Upgrading downtown Knoxville to a wireless district would require the installation of antennas, radio devices that each emit a 200-foot radius of wireless signals, throughout the area. Knoxville’s IT director Janet Wright explains, “We love wireless, and I’ve been looking at what other cities are doing, but we’re more difficult because of location and topography.”

Currently, the city has only one public hotspot, or unmarked point of public Internet access: the City County Building. In addition, 30 non-public hotspots are located throughout downtown for the Police Department’s use. “Our policemen just pull into one of these hotspots, and they can pull up incident reports, check their email…. It’s great technology,” Wright says.

A few downtown businesses provide free Wi-Fi service for customers. According to managing partner Dan Goss, Downtown Grill & Brewery has offered the service for the past two years. “Definitely a lot of people take advantage of it,” he says. “It gives people the opportunity to come in, get a bite to eat and get some work done. I’ve seen everything from people playing online games to doing work to having business meetings.”

In certain locations, signals can be intercepted from neighboring businesses’ unsecured networks. In Market Square, for instance, a laptop user can tap in to Vagabondia’s server from inside Preservation Pub or to MacLeod’s server while lunching at Tomato Head.

Wright cautions that security is always an issue when you’re dealing with unsecured networks, especially if there’s sensitive data at stake. Walking down Gay Street with a laptop, for example, it’s possible to log on to some law firms’ unsecured networks. 

“I would be careful if I was them, because if your network isn’t secure, anyone can just hop onto your Internet,” she says. “If someone knew what they were doing, they could potentially hack into one of your systems.”

Wireless security is emphasized heavily to users of NOMAD, the University of Tennessee’s campus-wide Wi-Fi network. Students and faculty must go through an authentication process every time they log on, although visitors to the campus are permitted to set up a guest account. Laptops are also required to be equipped with anti-virus software. 

But the benefits of wireless technology outweigh the risks, says UT’s chief information officer Brice Bible. “Wireless technology goes with the [education] package,” he says, noting that its significance extends to both current and prospective students. “Technology is definitely something students take into consideration when they’re choosing a school, and wireless is part of that.”

UT’s current network operates using 1,200 antennas over 15 million square feet of space, and wireless is available both outside and in almost every building on campus. Dorm rooms, which still use an Ethernet system, are the exception, but a plan is in place to upgrade them to wireless by next summer.

“In 2001 [the year the network was installed], we were probably the most wireless campus in the country,” Bible says. Since then, the campus has seen dramatic improvements in connection speed, security and availability. Bible says UT is interested in expanding the network beyond the parameters of campus proper and into other student-frequented areas, such as the Strip and nearby residential areas. 

“Wireless technology has really advanced over the past five years,” he says. “The technology has finally caught up with some of our ideas”—one of which involves linking UT’s tech-savvy campus with the downtown area.

“I would think that the university would be very interested in partnering with the city in creating a wireless environment. It’s an interesting proposition and something that I think would be a very attractive option for the state and the city,” he says.

How much would such a project cost? Asheville invested $58,000 in its Wi-Fi network, which necessitated the installation of six downtown transmitters. The yearly cost of maintaining the network is projected to be less than $6,000.

Bible proposes building outward into downtown from UT’s already existing network, which would be less expensive than starting from scratch. “By next summer, we’re going to have about 15,000 access points on campus—that took a lot of engineering. But I think we have some capabilities that could be expanded.”

SEVEN DAYS IN NOVEMBER

 

Wednesday, Nov. 9

 

Thursday, Nov. 10

 

Friday, Nov. 11

 

Saturday, Nov. 12

 

Sunday, Nov. 13

 

Monday, Nov. 14

 

Tuesday, Nov. 15

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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