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City Council Takes Steps Toward Free Internet Access Throughout Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES ( — Free Internet access across the city of Angels? It appears to be on the way.

The City Council voted Wednesday to solicit bids from companies interested in taking part in an effort to offer free or low-cost Internet access across the city, as part of the CityLinkLA program.

The city is looking for companies that can offer reduced-rate wired service for low-income communities and free wireless Internet service in at least one of four zones in the city. The providers would also set up a network with 1 gigabit or higher speeds for homes and businesses.

In return, the Internet providers would get access to city-owned assets and incentives, such as bulk lease rates on the Department of Water and Power's fiber network, street lights where Wi-Fi equipment can be placed, access to storm water drainage systems and a streamlined permitting process.

City officials said the goal is to offer Internet access to everyone in the city, including those who cannot currently afford to get online.

The initiative could also help lower Internet service prices in Los Angeles by raising the level of competition for existing providers such as Time Warner, Verizon and AT&T, since CityLinkLA would give other companies a chance to set up shop in Los Angeles, city officials said.

Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who is spearheading the citywide Internet effort, said the program would boost the local economy, as well as close "the digital divide," a phrase that refers to a gap between those who can afford Internet and those who cannot.

"Making us the most connected city in the nation is an important priority, and this effort today takes a giant leap in that direction," Blumenfield said. "What we're doing today is, we're trying to make Los Angeles more connected. We're trying to say ... information is no longer just a privilege -- it is a right for everybody."

Blumenfield said the city is aiming to avoid the obstacles faced by other cities that have attempted municipal Internet service, and is taking a creative approach by making city-owned assets available to interested service providers.

Companies have until Nov. 12 to submit their proposals, with city officials hoping to implement the citywide Internet program within five years.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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