MIDDLEBURY — If all goes as planned, lounging on the Middlebury town green this summer could include checking emails, reading Wikipedia or watching YouTube videos on any Wi-Fi enabled device.
That’s because the downtown public Wi-Fi project that has been examined on and off over the past few years looks to be picking up steam.
At a meeting at Middlebury Community Television last Wednesday, Ilsley Public Library Director David Clark said the library is committed to hosting the project, which has enough funding to go forward. Clark said the planned schedule is for the Wi-Fi network to be up and running by sometime this summer.
“There’s a divide between those with smartphones and those using older technology,” said Sarah Lawton, youth services librarian at the Ilsley. “This project would serve (those with older Wi-Fi-enabled laptops).”
Clark said it seemed only natural that the library would take ownership of the project, since it is an organization that deals with spreading access to information. The program, he said, could stand to benefit town residents and tourists alike.
“It needed a home in town government,” said Clark. “We felt that it was a logical extension of our current services.”
The project has a budget of $10,000, half of which comes from the municipal budget. The town’s Downtown Improvement District Commission recently recommended that the town allot another $5,000 from its funds.
Both Clark and town planner Fred Dunnington said they expect the funds to be adequate to set up a robust Wi-Fi network in the downtown area.
Dunnington presented a 2011 proposal from Summit Technologies, which would establish six public Wi-Fi hotspots throughout downtown Middlebury and the MarbleWorks area. The cost of setup would be approximately $9,000, and yearly maintenance costs would total approximately $2,100.
The goal, said Clark, is to sell advertising on a page where all those who log onto the Wi-Fi network are directed. He said other towns have been able to cover the yearly maintenance on the system, as well as the costs of bandwidth used by those browsing the web, with that advertising.
Dunnington emphasized that the proposal was very preliminary, and that the town will invite bids on the project from other parties as soon as some of the project missions and requirements are more clear.
Meeting attendees agreed that more work is needed to determine who the system would serve and to estimate the total usage the town can expect from the service.
But the overall attitude toward the project was optimistic. Donna Donahue, president of the Better Middlebury Partnership, said that though the focus is often on developing downtown businesses, Wi-Fi offerings could further expand the appeal of open spaces in downtown Middlebury.
And Clark said the town is not a pioneer in a journey toward a public Internet network; towns that already have robust networks, like Woodstock and Poultney, can offer advice and guidance on creating a town Wi-Fi network.
And downtown wireless has seen a considerable push from organizations like the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Though Clark said Middlebury is not officially a part of that organization’s Wi-Fi expansion push, he said VCRD officials are willing to provide support and guidance.
Ultimately, Clark said, the project isn’t a permanent solution to connecting downtown Middlebury to the World Wide Web. Technology is changing so quickly that he only expects a system like this to run for two or three years; at that point, he said, there will likely be other options for providing Internet access.
“This isn’t a 10-year deal,” he said. “We need to put a three-year time frame on the project, then look at cost.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at andrea@addison