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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Park bench goes online
Bench PA
Sitting and watching the world go by has a new meaning
Surfing outdoors is taking on a new meaning with the launch of the world's first internet-enabled park bench.

The cyber-seat, installed in public gardens in Suffolk, UK, allows up to four people to log on to the web at the same time.

The bench, created by Microsoft's MSN service, will be free to use during the three-month pilot period.

Users simply plug their laptop into the modem sockets concealed in the inside arms of the bench, power up, and go online.

Online outdoors

The bench, in the abbey gardens of Bury St Edmunds, has been created in partnership with the local council.

People might be surprised that we've located a 21st Century cyber-seat in the grounds of an 11th Century abbey

Councillor Brian Bagnall
MSN said it chose St Edmundsbury Borough Council for the pilot bench after receiving applications from local authorities around the country.

The town's mayor, Councillor Brian Bagnall, will be the first to use the bench on Monday when he plugs in and sends an e-mail.

Mr Bagnall said: "People might be surprised that we've located a 21st Century cyber seat in the grounds of an 11th Century abbey.

"But Bury St Edmunds is proud to be the only town in the world that can offer this unique opportunity to use the web outdoors.

"Office workers can use it to stay connected, local people can do their shopping online while the kids play in the park, and the thousands of tourists who visit during the summer can instantly beam pictures of our award-winning gardens back to loved ones anywhere in the world."

The council and the company must now wait to see how internet users react to the option of using their laptops between the flora and fauna of park life.

Stuart Anderson, Marketing Manager at MSN said: "We're grateful to Bury St Edmunds for helping us offer an attractive outdoor environment from which to access the internet.

"The MSN Internet Bench supports our vision of making the web relevant and indispensable to our daily lives, and we'll be interested to see how people react to it."

Although the bench itself is claiming a world first, connectivity in public open spaces in nothing new. The Staffordshire market town of Penkridge has a cyber-park, where up to 20 users at any one time can wirelessly surf the net free of charge.

The service has been up and running for the last six weeks and is open to all those equipped with laptops and handheld palm devices using industry-standard WiFi wireless network connections.

Park goers can surf the web, send e-mail and even engage in a bit of multi-user game playing. The wireless approach has the advantage over fixed points because radio links are not, unlike park benches, so open to vandalism.

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