City officials enthusiastically clipped the inaugural cord on Portland's new free wireless internet today—but despite the fanfare, the system got off to a shaky start.

"As of this moment, the Internet is up and running in the square," said Adrian Van Haaften, VP of MetroFi, Portland's wireless service provider.

But in a packed tent on the upper deck of Pioneer Courthouse Square, numerous laptop users were unable to connect to the service, which became active in parts of downtown Portland, as well as the Lloyd, Kerns and Buckman neighborhoods early this morning. While some people surfed the net with ease, others could not. While MetroFi customer reps circled the tent helping users access the network, CEO Chuck Haas of MetroFi, as well as Mayor Tom Potter, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, City of Portland CTO Matt Lampe and Microsoft Director of Planning Stefan Weitz praised the new set-up.

"This represents an exciting new era for Portland," said Mayor Potter. "And I don't use the word era lightly."

Potter added that Portland's free wi-fi service is particularly novel because it will allow equal Internet access to all the city's residents, and will become the largest free municipal network in the country. Nationally, only 50% of Americans have internet access at home. MetroFi CEO Chuck Haas echoed Potter's statements.

"Portland is taking a leadership role in this revolution of providing low cost, fast internet access to everyone," says Haas.

Portland certainly may be leading other cities by providing ubiquitous, free wi-fi, but the system—three years in the making—still needs some tinkering. If onlookers were annoyed by the technical difficultly, many seemed assuaged by the free coffee drinks, hotdogs and goodie bags stuffed with a bag of coffee beans and a gift card handed out by Boyd's coffee, one of MetroFi's first local advertisers. The tent erupted in cheers as CTO Lampe cut the bright red Internet cable with a large pair of garden shears.

To learn more about Portland's new wi-fi service and to hear from Commissioner Saltzman, who championed the local free wi-fi, check out "Wire Service" in tomorrow's Willamette Week.