Vt. Public Wi-Fi Creates Broadband Options

[imgbelt img=biz.jpg]A small town in central Vermont builds a wi-fi network for its downtown, providing students, businesses and residents with a new way to get online. For the town of 2,000, that means more opportunity — and less time in the parking lot of the pizzeria.

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Bethel Connection, students and the rest of the town of 2,000 in central Vermont will have other options for getting online.

The new public broadband network covers Bethel’s downtown through four access points using equipment that can withstand heat, cold and bad weather. Each device beams a signal about 200 yards.

The wi-fi zone was installed thanks to the Vermont Digital Economy Project, a part of the Vermont Council on Rural Development. The project is being funded by a federal grant from the Economic Development Administration, along with substantial in-kind support from IBM, Microsoft and other partners.

Before the new wi-fi network, the go-to place in Bethel for free Internet was a pizzeria called Cockadoodle. The owner left his wi-fi router on all night, so people would park next to the closed pizzeria and use the wi-fi from their cars after hours. The same thing happened at the Bethel Library when it was closed. People sat outside, using the free wi-fi. Now, they have other options.

A message from the Rural Assembly

[imgcontainer left] [img:food1.jpg]The community celebration of the new wi-fi network included a cake.

“The town officials expect to continue seeing benefits stem from this wi-fi zone,” said Abbie Sherman, the Bethel Assistant Town Manager. “These benefits include giving the town another tool for providing the Bethel community with critical information. In addition, it will provide the community with an alternative to keep in touch with friends and family should we be faced with another disaster,” like the 2011 hurricane, Irene, which cut off parts of the state.

While broadband is expanding across Vermont, many people still do not have it in their homes. Often, the choices for Internet are either satellite or dialup. In addition, even where broadband is accessible, many either choose not to pay for an Internet connection or simply cannot afford to do so.

The zone will also help support local businesses. The Bethel Business Association is footing the bill for the monthly Internet connection. They are expecting to gain many benefits from the access and the landing page that comes with it, which will advertise local businesses in town.

“What we’re talking about is an advanced form of communication,” said Neal Fox, the Bethel Business Association chairman. “And more important, an enhanced form of communication generally translates to an enhanced form of commerce, and that’s what the Bethel Business Association is all about.”

The places where a wi-fi zone can make the biggest difference are towns such as Bethel, which has a close-knit community that already understands how the new Internet access can help build a stronger economy.

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A message from the Rural Assembly

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