Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 22, 2013

Bids moving ahead for wireless system

Traverse City Record-Eagle

— TRAVERSE CITY — Parts of downtown Traverse City could have public wireless service by summertime.

The Downtown Development Authority is moving ahead to seek bids on construction and management of a municipal Wi-Fi network in the DDA district.

“We’re hoping to at least start the installation sometime in the summer,” said DDA Deputy Director Rob Bacigalupi. “We’re hoping parts of it will be (up and running) by mid summer while we’re installing the rest of it.”

DDA has about $622,000 budgeted for the project. DDA board member John Di Giacomo said it looks like installation will run in the $350,000 to $400,000 range; maintenance and operation expenses will be additional.

“We’re thinking between the two it’s going to be no more than and hopefully less than $620,000,” Bacigalupi said.

Ongoing costs may be defrayed by wireless phone companies paying fees to buy into the city system’s bandwidth.

“Companies will often buy or lease bandwidth from municipalities so that what we essentially do is lease out some of that network to third-party providers like AT&T and Verizon,” he explained, noting that the DDA was told of a similar project in Vail, Colo., that had individual wireless providers paying $5,000 monthly. “So if they’re paying a fee to be part of it, during a busy time like Cherry Festival, they can take some of the data that’s being sent to their cell phone network and instead … dump it through our Wi-Fi system so their bandwidth isn’t clogged.”

The city is also going to seek bids for a contractor to handle advertising sales to downtown businesses and restaurants as well as, possibly, others willing to pay for such visibility to network users. That would be another potential revenue source.

A municipal WIFI system would also enable the city to install parking meters that accept credit card and smartphone payments, Di Giacomo said. In that event, the Traverse City Parking System might pay a fee to use the Wi-Fi network.

Coverage would include the entire association district and extend to Clinch Park Marina, which already has its own Wi-Fi.

“It provides a high-quality experience for visitors,” Bacigalupi said. “Having Wi-Fi outside, if they want to check their mail and don’t want to burn up minutes on their cell plan, we can accommodate that.

“It all feeds into a really great experience for the visitor to downtown.”

Mike Norton, media relations director at the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that public Wi-Fi is a a valuable amenity.

“One of the things we notice often on TripAdvisor, folks will mention the absence or presence of Wi-Fi ... when evaluating a place,” Norton said. “Obviously our partners in the tourism industry are very cognizant of it. It’s a good thing to have.”