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Declan McCullagh

Staff Writer, CNET

Americans who brave winter snowstorms to catch a glimpse of President Bush’s inauguration on Thursday now can check e-mail and update blogs from Pennsylvania Avenue, thanks to a new Wi-Fi hot spot.

A nonprofit community group called the Open Park Project is providing the free service this week in what its founders describe as an exercise in wireless democracy.

“It helps advance our goal of providing a Wi-Fi zone on the National Mall,” said Greg Staple, the group’s president and co-founder. “We call it a hot spot for democracy: using Wi-Fi to witness history.”

Last spring, the Open Park Project announced a Wi-Fi hot spot on Capitol Hill near the Supreme Court. Staple and other volunteer members of the group now plan to link up the entire National Mall and are negotiating arrangements to place antennas on Smithsonian Institution buildings.

The Pennsylvania Avenue wireless node, which will blanket the popular area between 13th and 15th streets, isn’t the only example of inaugural technology. Verizon said it has deployed 5,000 feet of fiber-optic links used for temporary rooftop cameras and more than 40,000 feet of coaxial cable for use by TV broadcasters.

The International Webcasting Association is sponsoring the “enaugural,” a Webcast of a presidential inaugural ball that will be held Thursday evening at a Wyndham hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.

Celebrity guests include astronaut Buzz Aldrin and TCP/IP co-inventor Robert Kahn, billed as “THE actual inventor of the Internet.” For partygoers who choose to attend in person instead of tuning in online, tickets range between $150 and $300.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Secret Service and 50 other federal, state and local agencies will be monitoring the ceremonies from northern Virginia in a command post designed to integrate video from helicopters and dozens of surveillance cameras along the parade route. Sensors placed around the city will sniff for radiation and biological and chemical agents. Bush’s swearing-in ceremony takes place at noon.