A group of moonlighting cops wants to make surfing the Internet easier for business travelers.
The men in blue, spread between Ottawa, Canada, and Phoenix, have formed a company called Sky Link Internet Access to provide hotels and resorts across North America with pay-and-surf kiosks.
The stations, built around IBM-compatible desktop computers, allow anyone with a credit card to sit down, sign on and surf the World Wide Web, check their e-mail back home, conduct a network conference or connect to a remote computer anywhere on Earth.
The cost: $5 for each 25 minutes, up to a maximum of 120 minutes at a time.
"It's a high-tech vending machine," Sky Link's Chief Executive Officer Neil Pritchard said. Pritchard is a sergeant with the Ottawa- Carleton Regional Police, a department that covers Ottawa and nearby municipalities.
Pritchard, who founded the company with another Ottawa policeman, said the idea for Sky Link popped into his head a couple years ago while he was selling charity raffle tickets in the Ottawa International Airport.
"I was sitting there reading (Microsoft Chairman) Bill Gates' book, The Road Ahead, and people kept coming up to me and asking where they could plug in their laptop computers," Pritchard said. "That's when things started to come together."
Since that fateful day, Pritchard has steered Sky Link through its infancy, keeping the company within the ranks of fellow law enforcement officers, people Pritchard says are hard-working and trustworthy.
Sky Link has installed about seven kiosks across Canada, and have plans for a handful of others in Canada and places such as Aruba.
The company's first venture into the United States is in Phoenix, where Sky Link has installed a kiosk near the ballrooms at the Sheraton Crescent Hotel, 2620 W. Dunlap Ave., at Interstate 17.
Spearheading the company's efforts in the United States is Andrew Eagleton, an officer and helicopter pilot with the Phoenix Police Department.
Pritchard and Eagleton said Phoenix was selected over other U.S. cities because of two important factors - its reputation as a growing high-technology center and its plethora of hotels and resorts that cater to business travelers.
Although the kiosks all contain desktop PCs, they are customizeable to match the decor of individual hotels and resorts. At the Sheraton Crescent, for example, the computer is housed inside a wood-paneled counter that will soon also feature a bank of pay phones.
Using the kiosks is easy. The user simply sits down and chooses one of several accepted credit cards, then enters their name, credit card number and expiration date. The user also selects how much online time is desired, with 25 minutes being the minimum.
A few seconds later, once the credit card is electronically approved, the user is free to surf anywhere on the Web using Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, check their e-mail, conduct a network conference or connect with a remote computer using a telnet application.
Sky Link officials expect Web surfing and e-mail to be the most popular features. A quick test showed the system able to send and receive e-mail using just about any account that can be accessed via the Internet. Proprietary systems, such as America Online, can't be accessed.
Pritchard pointed out that anyone can use the terminals to send e- mail, whether or not they have an Internet account. The system allows users to send e-mail or post messages online, such as in Usenet newsgroups.
Although aimed at business travelers, the Sky Link system can be used by anyone, from families on vacation to residents living near hotels who don't have their own computers at home.
Darla Burruel, the Sheraton Crescent's business center concierge, said the Sky Link kiosk has been a big hit with hotel guests.
"We have everybody asking about Internet services," she said. The kiosk "is very convenient for guests who don't have laptops. They say it's a neat idea." Photo reprints available. Please call 602-271- 8298 for cost information.