Beginning March 1, Decatur will be offering free public Wi-Fi in several public spaces: downtown Decatur, the Oakhurst business district, Oakhurst Park, Glenlake Park, McKoy Park, and Adair Park. These spaces are ideally suited for work and play, and now users can count on a reliable Wi-Fi signal free of charge!
Residents and visitors will now be able to stay connected with their smartphones, tablets and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices while in these community spaces.
I believe the way this wi-fi will be different from the old Decatur wi-fi, is that not only will it be “reliable”, but it also it would be provided at a faster speed and there will be no time-limit. I’m sure the city will correct me if I’m wrong!
On the agenda for tonight’s Decatur City Commission meeting, Asst. City Manager Andrea Arnold proposes significant changes to Decatur’s much discussed public wi-fi, which has been around since 2008.
In suggesting $165,000 worth of upgrades to the already obsolete network, Ms. Arnold suggests pulling out of residential neighborhoods, with upgrades limited to downtown Decatur, the Oakhurst business district, as well as Glenlake, McKoy and Oakhurst parks. As we know, single-family residential area wi-fi has been a big challenge for the service providers due primarily to our annoying tree-infested neighborhoods. (That’s my humorous description, not anyone else’s.)
Additionally, Ms. Arnold notes that Decatur has never provided free wi-fi access and suggests a one-year pilot program in the outdoor public spaces listed above.
Operational costs for the network will be around $24,000 – $5,000 of which would be provided by the Decatur Downtown Development Authority.
“Brightlan is a Georgia owned and operated internet service provider”, who’s wireless networks “cover much of north Georgia.”
Brightlan installed municipal wireless networks in Hapeville and Dublin and serves as the ISP for the City of Hapeville’s wireless network. Brightlan’s references were positive and emphasized their technical skills as well as their quality customer service.
According to Ms. Arnold’s note, Brightlan will take on marketing and customer acquisition, subscription services, equipment deployment and network modifications, network maintenance and a revenue share with the City. Arnold states that Brightlan is “committed to strengthening the network and making improvements to its reliability and bandwidth.”
Back when it was originally deployed, many of the criticisms revolving around Decatur’s Wi-Fi investment were predicated on the fact that Wi-Fi would become an outdated model in just a few years. Well, that hasn’t really happened as quickly as many of those criticisms assumed. So, if Decatur can find a company that can provide reliable wireless internet access at a discounted rate to residents, it still has the potential to be successful.
However, there are still many hurdles to leap over – tree-interference and the general usability of the login pages being just two of ’em.
Decatur recently put out a Request for Proposals (aka RFP) “seeking an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to upgrade, operate and maintain the city’s existing municipal WiFi network.”
According to the RFP, the city is looking for an Internet Service Provider to…
(a) make recommendations about how to modify the existing network to improve performance and stability and to focus on those areas that can be served reliably;
(b) provide marketing and customer acquisition services;
(c) operate, maintain and support the network that currently serves educational, residential, commercial, and municipal customers within the City of Decatur boundaries.
If Decatur could create a reliable Wi-Fi service for around the $25/month it currently charges, it could save many of us significant amounts of money. Hopefully the city can find an ISP that’ll do just that.
BTW…I didn’t see anything about creating a Decatur Wi-Fi mobile login page in the RFP, but hopefully that’s still on the city’s radar.
OK, so I feel like there are still a lot of open questions out there about Decatur Wi-Fi, not least of which is “why do so many people think I’m Decatur Wi-Fi tech support?” So using the power of the internets, let’s answer some of the questions I’ve been hearing as of late.
First, I’m curious to know how many people have even tried the service.
According to an update to the city’s Wi-Fi page in January, our extensive wi-fi network is finally finished!
After two years of network design and construction, the City’s wireless network is complete. The network consists of 190 wireless mesh radios over approximately 4 square miles within the City limits. The radios are attached to a variety of structures including Georgia Power utility poles, traffic signal poles, city-owned poles, and government and commercial buildings.
The network provides outdoor, high-speed Internet access to devices with wireless networking capabilities. For indoor access, most users will need a device called a CPE (consumer premise equipment) or wireless modem to strengthen the signal.
There’s also a new map (above) that shows more specific signal strength along our streets. From the looks of it, I seem to have some of the worst signal strength on our street. Oh well, all’s fair in love and wi-fi distribution.
If most indoor users will need an extra “CPE” to have a chance of accessing the wi-fi network, I still think it would be a good idea for “Get the Speed” to have neighborhood “fairs” or something so interested residents can test it out in their homes without having to order one, find out it doesn’t work for them, and then have to return it in the mail. That’s just too much effort for most people.
In terms of comparison shopping, if you signed up for the 12-month high-speed access plan and needed a CPE, your total monthly cost would be somewhere around $30. That’s about 12 bucks cheaper than my current Comcast.