Jacksonville, Florida is one of the first cities in the United States to set up a "Wireless Internet Zone". An area in which any laptop computer automatically connects to the Internet the minute it is turned on. The project is the result of a community wide effort.

Jacksonville's business community wanted a showpiece, something that would attract new firms by demonstrating that the city was on the cutting edge of the latest technology.

Drew Thoeni says it was his company, Inc.well, that first came up with the idea of creating a wireless internet zone in the city's tourist district, a riverside area of shops, restaurants, and boats.

"With wireless, you can put one connection into a central location and then share that connection throughout the area," he explains. "This is one of the ideas that we had worked on. We took it to the city and proposed it, and immediately they were very interested in the idea."

The city began rounding up partners who could make it happen: A telephone company, a marketing firm, and a technology firm that knew how to build the wireless gateway to the internet.

James Higbe says his company - Connexsys provided that expertise.

The rest of the group sat and talked about ' Hey, here's what we want it to do. Make that so.' It was a fun project to work on, something we were very excited about, and we're glad it's been successful so far," says Mr. Higbe.

Since its August opening, Jacksonville spokesman Libby Clapp says, the Wireless Internet Zone has attracted thousands of users and queries of interest from cities around the world.

"This gave us an opportunity at no cost and no risk for the city to be involved in the current emerging technology, to prove that the concept worked, and to start getting some information to support moving it to other areas," she says.

Like the city's poorer sections, perhaps. Libby Clapp says a wireless internet hook up in the middle of a low income neighborhood could connect 500 homes to the internet at little cost.

"There are a lot of areas in which wireless access is a lot more cost effective and more reasonable to support than putting in the wiring," she explains.

Wireless internet access could also transform some of Jacksonville's old, abandoned commercial buildings into business incubators.

Libby Clapp says that is another possibility the city's wireless Internet experiment has brought to light.