A downtown Hot Spot
Wireless: A new way to take your computer to lunch.

If your laptop computer is equipped with a wireless card, you should take it to lunch in downtown Long Beach. You can surf the Internet while you scoff down sushi, and the connection is free for one hour.

For a city eager to become a high-tech center, this is a technological treat. Also, for a pittance, Long Beach has generated attention in The New York Times, on CNN and in other media with global audiences. Mayor Beverly O'Neill was getting phone inquiries from far and wide before the service even officially started.

The service starts officially today, but unofficially there's been a Hot Spot, as the city calls it, for a week or so in the vicinity of Pine Avenue between First and Fourth streets. One reader who tried it said it works great, although he passed along a technical tip: If your computer uses WEP (wired equivalent privacy), it might have to be turned off manually to make the downtown connection, then turned back on for normal service. (No, we don't have a clue as to how you turn WEP off or on.)

The free Internet service uses the standard known as WiFi, which is becoming widely used in homes and offices and at some airports. Long Beach is the first big U.S. city to offer the service without charge downtown, and plans to extend the free service soon to the Convention Center and Long Beach Airport. There will be no time limit at those locations.

Most of the equipment for the downtown service was donated by private firms, including G-site, Intermec, Vernier Networks and Color Broadband. The city's operating cost will be about $4,000.

Even at a time of deep budget cuts, that is a bargain. The global publicity is a big bonus.

For Long Beach's downtown diners, convention-goers and airport travelers, Hot Spot is a cool service.