Once a fierce opponent of municipal Wi-Fi networks, AT&T announced Tuesday that it would deploy a 25-square-mile Wi-Fi system in downtown Springfield, Ill.
The Springfield network would likely be free to residents using speeds of 200 kbps and under, according to press reports. Residents would pay for higher speeds.
The move is something of a break from the past because incumbent telephone companies have lobbied against Wi-Fi, and some states -- like Pennsylvania --have restricted municipal Wi-Fi networks after intense lobbying from telephone and cable firms.
The Wi-Fi service was awarded on a no-bid basis. According to Mayor Tim Davlin, formal bidding is not required because the city is not contracting for a service -- AT&T only wants the right to mount equipment on city utility poles.
Although details have not been finalized, customers using higher speed Wi-Fi services would likely pay a fee for those services.
AT&T, formerly SBC Communications, has said it ceased its lobbying effort against municipal Wi-Fi networks more than a year ago. "The evolution of the market removed the need for us to oppose these types of networks in any active way," said an AT&T spokesman, according to the Wall Street Journal.