Middlebury’s downtown may land Wi-Fi coverage

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury may soon offer a substantial free amenity to residents and tourists frequenting its historic downtown: wireless Internet service.
Middlebury selectmen on Tuesday green-lighted further study of a proposal by the Watertown, Mass.-based firm Anaptyx to make downtown Middlebury WiFi-accessible. The company — which has already brought WiFi service to Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass. — is proposing to install the necessary wireless Internet infrastructure for $8,700, according to Middlebury Assistant Town Manager Joe Colangelo. There would also be an ongoing charge of around $1,000 annually to maintain the cable lines to the WiFi routers, he added.
“We will figure out the best way to pay for the start-up costs,” Colangelo said, a financing plan that he believes could include contributions from the town and revenues from Middlebury’s Downtown Improvement District (DID). The DID encompasses Middlebury’s core village area in which the owners of non-residential real estate pay a special tax to finance improvements to public property in the downtown.
Colangelo is also reaching out to Middlebury College to see if it would be interested in joining a downtown WiFi network.
“In the best of both worlds, the downtown and Middlebury College would be on one system,” Colangelo said.
“I think this is a small investment that could pay big dividends for Middlebury in the future,” he added.
Those dividends, according to Colangelo, would include making Middlebury “the first completely wireless downtown in Vermont.” Residents and visitors could suddenly take their electronic work or diversions with them into the downtown, patching into the Internet for free at local coffee shops, lodging establishments and outdoor parks.
Anaptyx would make this possible by mounting wireless Internet routers on a handful of the downtown’s tallest structures, likely to include the Battell Block and the Middlebury municipal building. Colangelo said the routers would be invisible from street level. Once installed, the system would allow Internet users to get what Colangelo believes will be “one-wall reception” along such areas as Main Street, the town green, Washington Street, the Marble Works, Frog Hollow, Cannon Park, Triangle Park and Merchants Row. “One-Wall reception” means the wireless signal would be strong enough to penetrate at least one wall between the routers and laptop computers.
If the college participates — and it certainly has tall enough structures to do so — the WiFi reception could extend well onto campus and allow students to study outdoors and take their laptops with them into the downtown.
“It would give (Middlebury) students more of a reason to come into town and shop,” Colangelo said.
Indeed, it could not only boost business traffic, but also give local stores some added exposure on the World Wide Web. Colangelo said downtown Middlebury’s WiFi service would feature a home page listing downtown businesses. This would give visitors instant knowledge of places to shop. The home page has also provided Harvard Square with a mechanism to pay the annual router maintenance charge, according to Colangelo.
At Tuesday’s meeting selectmen did not discuss how the annual maintenance charge in Middlebury would be paid.
It was around a year and a half ago that an Anaptyx official — in town for a Middlebury College visit — contacted Colangelo about the prospect of installing WiFi service in the downtown. Talks heated up in recent months, to a point where Colangelo officially pitched the idea to the selectboard on Tuesday.
“I think that this is a solid proposal and makes very good sense, and offers convenience for residents and businesses downtown,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said. “I expect us to be going forward with this.”
The Middlebury Business Partnership (BMP) board has yet to take an official position on the WiFi proposal. But BMP Coordinator Gail Freidin said she believes there could be a lot of pluses.
“Having WiFi is a huge benefit to customers,” Freidin said. “To the extent that it could be another attractive component of the downtown to make people want to hang out and spend money, that’s a good thing.
“I think it is a very interesting and exciting sounding project,” she added.
G. Kenneth Perine is president of the National Bank of Middlebury and chairman of the DID board. Like Freidin, Perine would like to hear some more feedback from merchants before asking his board to take a position on downtown WiFi.
“We certainly think WiFi capability in the downtown would be an advantage to merchants,” Perine said. “But the question is, how do the merchants feel about it? We want to hear from merchants to see if it aligns with their thinking.”
Some downtown businesses, including Two Brothers Tavern, already offer WiFi service. Two Brothers co-owner Holmes Jacobs said WiFi has been a proven magnet for customer traffic in the three years the business has offered it.
Jacobs said he would favor extending free WiFi throughout the downtown, provided it doesn’t put a financial strain on businesses and residents.
“It sounds like a great idea,” Jacobs said.

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