[Chtechcomm] Yet another downtown wifi article

tbuckner at ibiblio.org tbuckner at ibiblio.org
Thu Dec 1 08:03:13 EST 2005


Town looks at wi-fi options
Online exclusive

December 01, 2005

It’s possible that connecting to the Internet in downtown Chapel Hill
might become second nature.

The town of Chapel Hill is interested in implementing wireless service
throughout downtown and possibly some residential neighborhoods.

But how exactly that can be done still is unclear.

Gregg Gerdau, chairman of Chapel Hill’s technology committee, said the
town is looking into a number of different models for wireless technology.

“There are a number of different models when deploying a municipal
wireless service,” he said. “The first model is negotiating for wireless
services with a third-party vendor in exchange for municipal right-of-way.

“The second option is purchasing services from an outside vendor, and the
third option is to provide services in partnership with the private sector
to stimulate economic development.”

Based on research done on towns that already have instituted wireless
technology, Gerdau said programs are most successful when a private vendor
comes in and establishes the network.

Before Gerdau goes to the Chapel Hill Town Council he is waiting for the
results of a Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership survey of downtown business

Partnership Executive Director Liz Parham said she hopes the survey will
help the town cater to the needs of downtown businesses.

“This may be a valuable tool of economic growth,” she said. “We want to
look at the needs and wants of existing businesses.”

Gerdau supports Parham’s work and said there have been instances in other
towns where deploying wireless technology has been unsuccessful.

The difference is whether the town adequately surveyed its constituents to
understand their differing requirements in advance of designing the
networks, Gerdau said.

He said he hopes the surveys will show the need for wireless technology to
go beyond Franklin Street’s basic business district and into the Northside
and Pine Knolls neighborhoods to help decrease the digital divide.

Shannon Howle Schelin, director of the Center for Public Technology at the
School of Government, who is working with the partnership on the project,
said there are a couple of different ways the town could set up the

“They could roll out a hot spot or hot zone, which would be areas like
downtown,” she said, adding that several cities — including Charlotte,
Wilmington and Morehead City — already have set up wireless areas.

A big question with implementing wireless capabilities downtown is how
much the project will cost and how it will be funded.

“Most towns are paying $150,000 per square mile for a municipalwide
development,” Gerdau said.

Schelin said the next issue for the town is whether it wants to make it
free or offer it as a utility.

Local activist and former council candidate Will Raymond has his own plan
for funding and implementing the proposal.

“The town can sponsor a nonprofit organization that is chartered to
provide municipal networking for public, commercial and governmental use,”
he said.

Under Raymond’s proposal, funding for the nonprofit organization would
come from tax savings the town would receive by having its own network and
selling off commercial access.

As with many supporters of downtown wireless, Raymond said he hopes that
if Chapel Hill deploys wireless technology, there will be less of a
digital divide and more economic growth.

“It’s leveling the playing field, Gerdau said. “My specific belief is once
you connect people to the Internet, it’s economic development of a very
organic nature.”

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