Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 23, 2014

Free Wi-Fi slated for downtown

TRAVERSE CITY — Downtown visitors could tap into free, open-air Wi-Fi by the Fourth of July.

The Traverse City Downtown Development Authority approved a conceptual plan to contract with Traverse City Light & Power for 10 years of wireless networking to cover the entire downtown and waterfront. The plan would extend to most of the downtown commercial area and bayfront, but its free wireless component would only cover outdoor areas.

DDA officials based their decision to invest almost $790,000 over 10 years more on providing government services and diversifying the downtown’s future business mix than letting summer visitors surf the web for free.

“Creating a network accessible to the public is really an ancillary benefit of the service,” said John DiGiacomo, a member of the DDA who helped lead the investigation into creating a downtown Wi-Fi network. “If it’s built correctly you can use it for all sorts of stuff. You could add garbage sensors down there so you could know when to send someone down there to empty the cans.”

But parking, not garbage, drove the Wi-Fi push. The DDA eventually will move to install smart meters that will accept parking payment by credit cards. The meters require a link to a credit card processing service through either the Internet or cellular phone service. DiGiacomo said it would cost about $21,000 a year for the cellular service option.

The system also could handle security cameras or provide emergency communications for law enforcement. The system will activate Light & Power’s dark fiber network that directly connects to the Internet. Wireless access is the first step to providing dedicated fiber lines that can attract businesses that deal in large chunks of data, DiGiacomo said.

Traverse City Light & Power would build the system for $465,000 and provide the independent contractor, Aspen Wireless, to maintain it. The DDA would pay $275,000 the first year and reimburse the remaining construction costs over the next six years.

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