South Bethlehem is about to join a handful of places in the state to be wired for high-speed wireless Internet access.
Lehigh Valley leaders today will announce that the South Side's recovery from the loss of Bethlehem Steel takes another giant step with a 2.5-square-mile wireless ''hot zone'' that covers virtually every piece of the city south of the Lehigh River, said Lehigh University's director of technology management services, Roy Gruver, who has been helping PPL Telecom fine-tune the system for the past year.
Dozens of access points have already been installed on utility poles, and a partnership that includes the city, the university, the Ben Franklin Partnership and the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. is ready to provide access — for a fee — to anyone with a laptop computer.
"This is a significant advancement in the development of south Bethlehem,'' Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan said. ''This will help grow what I'd call a knowledge neighborhood throughout the South Side. It's pretty exciting.''
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UPDATE: The 2.5-square-mile network covers virtually all of south Bethlehem and gives high-speed Internet access to anyone willing to part with $20 per month, carrying the South Side a step closer to becoming the ''knowledge neighborhood'' city officials envision.
In fact, even as the news conference to announce the network broke up at Northampton Community College, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan was talking about expanding the new wireless district into the north-side business district.
''Live, work and play, right here,'' Callahan said. ''That's what it is all about. That is what we are building.''
And if you live in north Bethlehem, wireless access may soon be coming to a utility pole near you.
''When people on the north side see this, they're going ask, ''What about me?'' Callahan said. ''Well, we're already talking about that. Why not them, too?''