What happened to WiFi in TC?

TRAVERSE CITY – The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is continuing to work on a grant for free wireless internet downtown.

"If we were able to get a grant, we would try to do at least the main streets – Front and State," said Rob Bacigalupi, Deputy Director of Traverse City's DDA.

Traverse Community WiFi (TCWF), organized by a non-profit group in 2003, has already added wireless internet in many of the areas the DDA wanted to do, he said.

"There aren't too many gaps to fill. In the areas where people are able to sit down and use it, that's where he (Lars Kelto) has been focusing his efforts." Kelto, a technology consultant and one of the founding members of TCWF, says TCWF will still be adding public wireless internet access locations this year, but the focus has changed.

"At this point, we will have enough nodes in places where people would want to use them. Setting up blanket coverage to cover every square inch of downtown doesn't really seem that necessary to us any more," he said. "People are very likely to use their laptops in front of a coffee shop. They are much less likely to do it on a stretch of street that has no bench."

TCWF finds an area where they think people might want to use wireless internet, then they find someone nearby that has internet connectivity and tag on to their network.

The idea is that businesses, like Cuppa Joe, Horizon Books and the Loading Dock, don't have the expertise and time to manage the sites, but they can still provide wireless for their customers and other surfers in the area. This year, TCWF hopes to add two additional access points on both Front and Union by this summer. They also will be covering the new bus depot, scheduled to be completed the first week of June.

Who pays for it?

"We set up a system where we take donated computers, old computers, and we provide the wireless equipment and the firewall to protect the host's network," Kelto said. "I maintain all of that. We're basically doing this at a zero cost solution."

Besides it not costing anything, Horizon Books signed on to offer wireless service because TCWF made it easy for them to do, said manager Amy Reynolds.

"It's really at no cost to us and we're always looking for ways to service and enhance our services to the community," she said. "We're seeing increased usage almost daily, new people coming in, discovering it and using it. They love it."

They have three cyber stations available, as well, for customers who don't have a computer (a small fee is involved).

TCWF is also tying in with the Traverse Area District Library. The library now offers free wireless internet at each of its locations.

"We think of ourselves as a stop-gap measure," Kelto pointed out. "Eventually, the technology is going to improve, the distances for the technology is going to improve and the commercial providers are going to be able to effectively offer some sort of coverage every where you are."

What Petoskey is doing

Petoskey is another community offering free wireless internet access to the public. Last summer, the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce and three of its members, Norlight Telecommunications, United Telecom and i3 Business Solutions, donated their time and equipment to launch and maintain the project.

Access points are now at Pennsylvania Park, the Petoskey Public Library and Coffee & Connect.

"One thing we're working on right now is increasing awareness of the wireless hot spots," said Carlin Smith, president of the Petoskey Chamber. BN