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Mayor Stalling Efforts to Bring Wi-Fi to the Poor?

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One local tech company's answer to the mayor's anti-poverty initiative is to bring free wireless Internet access to students living in the city's public housing projects. But Lionlike LLC says it has hit one critical obstacle — it can't get Mayor Dwight Jones or anyone else in his office to take the pitch seriously.

"I've emailed him three to five times with no response; I requested a meeting with him through his website with no response; I've sent emails to 25 city staff members with no response," says Heather Dixon, who's promoting the initiative on behalf of Lionlike.

Given Jones' focus on poverty, Dixon says she's bewildered by the silence. The project is paid for by Lionlike and private donations, and wouldn't cost taxpayers. But the company says it needs Jones to provide the clout necessary to get critical agencies on board, particularly the state, which is denying access to the roof of the James Monroe office building. That's the tallest building in Richmond at 14th and East Franklin streets, the only viable site for the antennas necessary to reach all the city's housing projects south of the James River.

"Jones' No. 1 priority is an anti-poverty campaign," Dixon says, "but all they do is talk about ideas — they don't do anything. … This actually addresses the issue."

City spokesman Michael Wallace says it isn't fair to say the city never responded to Lionlike. He provided a copy of the city's emailed reply to the company's inquiries. The message acknowledged receipt and said the idea was submitted to city staff for review. Wallace said a phone call followed, though Dixon said she never heard back.

Wallace told Style Weekly the decision is up to the state, but that "maybe down the line that is something we can help pursue."

Osita Iroegbu, a spokeswoman for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, calls the idea "groundbreaking, innovative, even revolutionary on a very important level." The authority has had only preliminary conversations with Lionlike, she says, but is open to a partnership.

Lionlike owner David "Corey" Hitt says Internet access is critical for students, but many families can't afford it. He says the state's decision not to grant access to the Monroe building is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the project. The state cited a longstanding policy not to allow commercial use of rooftops, but Hitt says he's made it clear that there's no commercial component to the plan.

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