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New Orleans to enjoy free Wi-Fi access

Wireless hope amid the carnage

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There is some welcome relief today for those people left wading through the remains of New Orleans - T-Mobile has announced it will offer free Wi-Fi access across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama until the end of the week, and "possibly beyond that if the situation warrants it".

That's how eWeek.com puts it, under the deliciously inappropriate headline "T-Mobile Opens Wireless Floodgates in New Orleans". T-Mobile hotspots can be found in locations including Borders, FedEx/Kinko's, Starbucks, Hyatt Hotels, Red Roof Inn motels, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways. Those wishing to avail themselves of T-Mobile's generous offer are pointed in the direction of the listings for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

T-Mobile said in a statement: "The free service is intended for those who have been displaced from their homes or are seeking refuge from the hurricane," adding: "This free offer for the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama is for Wi-Fi service only, not T-Mobile voice services. There will be no charge for T-Mobile HotSpot service, at these locations, through the end of day Friday, September 2, 2005. The situation will be re-evaluated at that time to determine if the free service will continue."

While we're not entirely convinced that the company has actually been watching the TV footage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - and let's be honest, swimming to the nearest Starbucks to enjoy a double mocha chocka latte decaf while, ahem, surfing the web as the Louisiana National Guard battle gamely to protect the store's blueberry muffins from looters - the company can at least be applauded for the gesture.

Sadly, not everyone is as public-spirited. The Katrina disaster has brought the usual scum floating to the surface, in the form of fake charity email appeals and the time-honoured sale of catastrophe-related urls.

The Boston Globe reports that within the last day, a rash of websites - including, according to the paper, Katrinahelp.com, katrinadonations.com and katrinarelief.com - has broken out on the net promising to forward donated cash to relief workers. The paper notes there is no way of knowing whether the money - collected via PayPal - ever reaches the intended recipients.

Actually, all three websites are basically the same, declaring: "WE've found that www.KatrinaHelp.info is a good site to share YOUR good fortune with Katrina's victims. Contact us HERE to find out How YOU can add your link to this website." Leave any of them open, and after a while they redirect to a parking page with the obligatory ads - a low-grade scam to grub up a few bucks. Possibly more sinister are the mailto: links on the sites. Once you've thrown over an email to see how you can help, the reply may end up costing you more than you expected. Federal Trade Commission spokeswoman, Claudia Bourne-Farrell "cautioned consumers never to click on any link in an e-mail solicitation because consumers may end up at a phony site that looks real but is only a setup by identity thieves to get confidential information".

The FBI, meanwhile, says it is investigating "a handful of reports of fraudsters using e-mail and websites to impersonate legitimate fund-raising and relief organizations related to the hurricane". Spokesman Paul Bresson warned: "People who want to make a donation or contribute to a cause should actively seek out reputable organizations and then contact them by telephone or by typing their web address into a web browser. The important point is that they initiate this contact on their own."

And while the Feds deal with the scammers, eBay is tackling the usual chancers who have been trying to flog what they reckon will be choice Katrina urls, including katrinaourtsunami.com and ourtsunami2005.com. The vendor of the latter - asking $15k for the domain - promised to forward half of the proceeds to the American Red Cross. eBay, however, pulled the plug because althought it "allows sellers to dedicate a portion of their profits to charities, [the company] requires the seller to either sign up for eBay's own giving program or obtain permission from the charity first".

The Red Cross confirmed to the Boston Globe that no such permission had been granted, and the axe duly fell.

On a brighter note, employees who had been ordered at gunpoint to attend the now-not-forthcoming HP Technology Forum - scheduled for 12-15 September in New Orleans - are now excused duty until the Autumn.

According to HP's update, the company is "working diligently to determine a time in the fall when we can host the conference" and will "automatically cancel all existing hotel reservations in New Orleans that were booked through the conference website, without penalty". It's also "working with the major airline carriers to transfer any non-refundable airline tickets to the rescheduled conference". ®

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