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GCN : January 2013
GCN JANUARY 2013 • GCN.COM 31 Apublic Wi-Fi service launched last summer in a busy Staunton, Va., park got off to a rocky start. "We put a press release out June 29, and four hours later we had a storm blow through," said Staunton's chief technology offi- cer, Kurt Plowman. A strong derecho storm that began near Chicago and tore cross-country to the Chesapeake Bay not only eclipsed the news of the free Wi-Fi service but also did serious damage to Staunton's Gypsy Hill Park, where trees were blown down and buildings were damaged. Fortunately, "the sys- tem stayed up," Plowman said. So when thousands gathered in the park five days later for a July 4th celebration, the public Wi-Fi got a lot of use. In fact, Wi-Fi use in the park had begun well before the formal launch. Almost as soon as instal- lation of the access points began in May, park workers noticed people congregating with their laptops near the points, Plowman said, demonstrating demand for Wi-Fi access. Now public Wi-Fi has become a popular feature at the park. "Peo- ple are finding creative uses for it," Plowman said, citing a wom- an who used her laptop Web cam- era to transmit a ball game in the park to a player's grandmother. The Wi-Fi service was included almost as an afterthought as part of an upgrade of the city's net- work, which added wireless edge solution components to the exist- ing OneFabric architecture from Enterasys Networks that the city already was using for its wired network. "I'm almost embarrassed to say how easy it was," Plowman said of the wireless segment. "It was an opportunity to give something back to the public." In some ways, however, Staunton was bucking a trend in municipal Wi-Fi service, which began to lose its luster about five years ago when cities discovered that creating free community wireless hotspots was not neces- sarily as easy or as productive as first thought. "There was a merging of is- sues, and it just stalled," Mike DRIVERS: Demand for free or cheap public Wi-Fi is rising with the growth of mobile and public expectation of wireless con- nectivity anywhere. TOOLS AND TACTICS: Wi-Fi service added via existing OneFabric architecture from Enterasys Networks, which the city already was using for its wired network. Segregate tra c from public access points from the city network. RETURN: Delivered public amenity as part of existing investment in municipal telecoms infrastructure. Addressed demand for WiFi access by mobile users. How rural Staunton, Va., revived municipal Wi-Fi, a service that some big cities have abandoned in recent years IS COMMUNITY WI-FI MAKING A COMEBACK? CASE STUDY