The most important part of creating a new downtown Wi-Fi zone is not the technology involved.
Certainly, the equipment that we have been using, produced by a West-Coast company called Meraki that was founded by two MIT grad students and is now owned by Cisco, is enterprise-level stuff, able to withstand even Vermont’s harsh winters. Additionally, the cloud controlled dashboard that comes with the license for this equipment and allows for the moderation of the zone is powerful, useful, and precise. But, at the end of the day, the equipment itself would be worthless without a community backing up the effort.
As we have put in more zones, this community aspect of the project has become more and more apparent. The more inclusive a Wi-Fi project can become, the better chance it has of standing on its own once our grant has finished.
I have seen examples of this across the state. One of our first zones, in Bethel Vermont, continues to be a success story of a local government working together with a business group (the Bethel Business Association) to make a zone that involved both the municipal government and local businesses.
In fact, throughout the project, we have worked with over 30 business owners and landlords in 22 different towns to help share the responsibility of these Wi-Fi zones.
Now, I am hopeful that the same will happen in two of the newest towns that we are working with: Cambridge and Barre.
In Cambridge, the Cambridge Artists & Entrepreneurs have taken the helm in the Wi-Fi project, but they are also working to ensure that the Jeffersonville Board of Trustees are aware of and support the project. The process has been an open one, and when we began discussing Wi-Fi in Cambridge, I presented the project to a group of businesses and interested townspeople at an open and public meeting on the revitalization of Cambridge. To strengthen the four-access-point zone we are planning, we are hoping to involve businesses to donate Internet bandwidth at all four points.
In Barre, the Barre Partnership is providing leadership to help us work with local businesses to create a successful zone along Main Street. We have already had discussions with the City’s IT Committee, and an article about our work has already appeared in the Times Argus. This week, the project will be presented to the City Council for their support, as well.
In order to support a Wi-Fi zone, we need buy-in from local business owners, local partnerships, and the local government. On a practical level, we are looking for somebody to moderate the zone, and an organization to take ownership of the equipment. And, on a larger scale, we know that the more voices that are included in the planning process of the zone, the more people will be informed about it, and the more successful it will ultimately be. Based on our experience so far, both Barre and Cambridge are on their way to becoming very successful downtown Wi-FI zones!