Although we have been crossing the state to launch numerous Wi-Fi zones over the past few weeks, each town we’re in is so distinctive that every launch is a special experience.
Last Thursday, we launched a Wi-Fi zone in Bennington. Bennington stood out because the town had been looking at creating a downtown Wi-Fi zone for some time, and our grant gave them the opportunity to follow through with an idea that people had been thinking about for some time. With help from the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, we were able to expand the network to cover all of downtown Bennington (you can see a map of the coverage on the right!)
The town of Bennington was happy to have the zone for a few key reasons. Eric Peterson, Oldcastle Theater’s founding Producing Artistic Director, put it simply on Thursday evening: "It's a win-win situation for all involved,” he said. “It's good for downtown business, and local people, and regional visitors, and tourists." When Michael Harrington, the town’s Economic Development Director and the torch-carrier for the project, originally approached him to host an Access Point on the Theater building, he knew it was a good idea and jumped at the chance to be involved in this community-focused project.
The zone’s actual usage corroborates the widespread benefit of the zone. Bennington is the second largest zone that the Vermont Digital Economy has worked on (only Waterbury is larger) and while there are some recurring users, there are also devices that use the network for a few hours, showing that both residents and visitors are finding the network to be helpful. Whoever the users are, however, the zone certainly is being utilized. In just a single week, the network saw 1,051 unique users, using a total of over 22 GB of data, mostly for Facebook, Gmail, and other miscellaneous Google searches.
The Wi-Fi Launch was celebrated in a true Bennington style, while a festival atmosphere prevailed up and down Main Street for Midnight Madness. There were food sellers, street musicians, and great deals to be had at the local shops, all while the Hill Hollow Band played bluesy tunes on the Town Hall’s Lawn. The town’s Office of Economic and Community Development and the Better Bennington Corporation both helped to make the event a success.
There should be many parallels in an upcoming Wi-Fi launch in Barre, on Wednesday, July 23. Barre’s Heritage Festival celebrates the city’s community, culture, history and the arts, so what better venue than that to also celebrate its latest achievement: a Wi-Fi zone? The zone extends from L&M Diner on one end of Main Street up to the CornerStone Café on the other. In Barre, the Barre Partnership, along with members of City Council and the IT Committee have all helped to make the zone a reality. Just as in Bennington, multiple businesses helped make the zone possible, by donating bandwidth and a space for the Access Points to be placed.
In both Barre and Bennington, installing a Wi-Fi zone has truly been a community endeavor. We can’t wait to see how Barre’s celebration goes!