Bethel, South Royalton Will Benefit
By Molly Mattern
Tropical Storm Irene, which devastated local communities in 2011, has imparted a surprising gift to the towns of Royalton and Bethel this summer.
On Thursday, June 13 at 3 p.m. on the Royalton green, the town of Royalton, in conjunction with BALE Fest, will hold the official launch of the new free public Wi-Fi, the Royalton Connection, which will serve the central village area.
Bethel will follow close behind with its own public Wi-Fi zone launch on June 20, starting at 5 p.m. at the Bethel Town Hall.
At both ceremonies, local community members, state government officials, and members of the Vermont Council on Rural Development and the Vermont Telecommunications Authority will be guest speakers.
A “photoposting” activity will showcase the power of a free public Internet.
The Wi-Fi zone launches result, in part, from the damage that Irene inflicted on the state, and are offered through the Vermont Digital Economy Project.
“Royalton was highly impacted by Tropical Storm Irene and these free services will certainly help our town to communicate more effectively,” said Rose Hemond, Royalton’s administrative and financial manager, who applied for the services on behalf of the town in March.
The Vermont Digital Economy Project, created by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), was formed in hopes of creating more supple communities, while also developing growth in a digital world.
VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello explained the importance of digitalizing local communities.
“Royalton and Bethel are dynamic, small villages where people need to be connected,” he said. “Tourists, students, and local folks can now connect to the whole world from the center of their downtowns,” he said.
“Wi-Fi zones not only promote tourism and highlight a town’s ability to be forward-thinking and modern,” said Caitlin Lovegrove, who helps implement zones, “but it can also be used in an emergency.” Equipment for the projects includes a “gateway,” which is the access connection that brings the Internet to the zone, and “repeaters,” which extend the size of Wi-Fi area by repeating the Internet connection through the use of radios.
The reach of the Wi-Fi system is not great. Each “repeater” can extend the zone–but only by about 200 feet, or two-thirds the length of a football field, according to Bethel Town Manager Del Cloud.
Bethel will use three repeaters, allowing the signal to reach businesses and homes on Main Street between the two bridges. Residential areas could be served if more repeaters are used in the future, he said.
While the Vermont Digital Economy Project will sponsor all of the equipment and installation needed, each individual town will be responsible for maintenance and upkeep of their particular zone.
Software for monitoring zones, which is also known as a “cloud controller,” can be accessed through the Internet.
Community members throughout Royalton have stepped up and helped with the construction of the project, including Tom Powers, who donated space in his Main Street building for cables and equipment.
The town’s selectboard voted to allow space on the green to be given for equipment installation.
Citizens in both Royalton and Bethel have been eager for the introduction of the free Wi-Fi.
“It shows a great step forward for the town to offer such a service,” said Chris Wood of the Royaltonbased non-profit BALE. “We are excited that free Wi-Fi will strengthen the businesses and sense of community in the downtown area.”
In Bethel, Asst. Town Manager Abbie Sherman commented, “we believe this WiFi zone will help others see what a great town Bethel is.”
The sponsoring organization there is the Bethel Business Association, chaired by Neal Fox. Having Wi-Fi “will signal Bethel’s willingness to be forward-thinking an technologically capable,” Fox said.
The “landing page” for each town, where Wi-Fi users are first directed, can be updated and used to inform the public on what to do and where to go in case of emergency.
The landing page for South Royalton can be found at royaltonconnection.org.