Free wireless Internet access has sprung up in Pittsburgh, Spokane and more recently Middletown, Conn. Now Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton is asking "Why not here?" Danbury Public Library already plans to offer a free "hot spot" at its renovated plaza when it re-opens in June. Anyone with a laptop with Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity, can surf the 'Net for free in and around the library. Boughton said he plans to explore how expanded access along Main Street could draw business to Danbury's downtown. Some Chamber of Commerce and CityCenter officials said they favor such an idea."It'd part of our emphasis on technology. We've upgraded our Web site and made the permitting process easier. This is part of making Danbury a 21st Century City," said Boughton, touching on one of his familiar themes. "Wi-Fi technology is exciting." Wi-Fi uses a radio signal to broadcast data through a transmitter to laptops, computers and PDAs that can receive such signals. Cisco Systems donated equipment worth $15,000 to Middletown, including three transmitters, which Wesleyan University experts installed atop buildings along Main Street. Middletown's only expense appears to be the monthly cost of the high-speed Internet service it broadcasts. For cities, the highest-powered routers and omni-directional antennae enable signals to travel several miles. However, walls tend to degrade a user's reception, especially walls containing steel. As more people use the signal, connection speeds slow. If several people are downloading music or other files, the connection can get very sluggish, said Jeff Setaro, of the Danbury Area Computer Society. A less-powerful version of the technology is widely available. Starbucks coffee shops around the country offer subscription-based wireless access, as do a limited number of McDonald's restaurants. Molten Java, a Bethel coffee house, offers free access. When the Danbury Public Library plaza reopens on June 19, free wireless Internet access will be available on the library's main floor and in its technology center, said library director Betsy McDonough."Maybe more WestConn students will come and eat some pizza and check their e-mail outside," said McDonough. "Employees who work in CityCenter can take a break to work outside." The access, provided through several antennae, is part of a larger effort to modernize the library that includes self-service check-out and an expanding language lab."The use of computers in the library has exploded," said McDonough. "We don't have the space or the money to add more, so hopefully, this will get people access without a lot of expense." McDonough suggests city officials watch how the public receives wireless access at the library as they look to expand access. "People are pretty vocal," she said. "When they like something, they tell you when they want more." According to David Yuan, a marketing manager at Cisco Systems, a growing number of cities are offering wireless access to commercial hubs to spur economic development. City officials have explored wireless access for a downtown shelters for the homeless and for battered women, but "the technology was not quite ready," said Wade Anderson, the city's manager of information technology."The challenge is to come up with a vision of how it would be used," said Anderson. "It would be nice to say: this is what we're really trying to get done." Boughton said the city could use money in the technology budget and look for corporate funding. Anderson, he said, likely would play a central role in the effort. Business leaders said wireless access could attract other businesses to the area, including outdoor cafes or businesses related to technology. "That sort of feature could be attractive to high-tech businesses," said Stephen Bull, president of the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce."I could use it," Darryl Ohrt, a CityCenter board member and the principal at Visual Intelligence Agency, a design firm that has created Web sites for Janet Jackson and Courtney Love, among others. Ohrt envisioned "taking my laptop to Two Steps" - a downtown eatery with sidewalk seating - "to surf the Internet and have lunch. I could even give a presentation." Ed Heere, the chief executive officer of AMSYS Computer in Ridgefield, said children who live downtown and might not otherwise have Internet access would benefit. "The value to the public is access to information," said Heere. Heere counseled the city to use technology to protect children from the "downsides of the Internet." "Some people will scream censorship, but some constraints can be applied," said Heere. Not everyone is sure Danbury is an ideal place to provide free wireless access because of the lack of sidewalk cafes and other outdoor businesses along Main Street."I just don't see the type of activity that other towns have," said Jeff Setaro, vice president of the Danbury Area Computer Society. "I guess you could use this to build it up." Tom Devine, owner of Two Steps Downtown Grille and a board member of CityCenter, said that Internet access is low on the list of priorities for downtown. Yuan, of Cisco said such networks thrive among high-populations, but flounder "in rural areas and small cities." Boughton said he would like to team up with CityCenter, the Chamber of Commerce, and Western Connecticut State University to study and create a free wireless network."We have a lot of work to do on this. It's not going to happen any time soon," Boughton said. " Contact Joe Gould at or at (203) 731-3411.