Downtown Internet Gets a Little Hotter?

Ran into Bob Avery, the Town's IT Director, on Franklin St. today. Turns out he's surveying Downtown with an eye towards deploying a small pilot program of free Internet hot spots in the near future. The pilot would use Clearwire as the high-speed wireless backhaul. The only resources needed are power and location.

I cautioned Bob not to limit his planning to publicly owned infrastructure like the old Townhall. Over the last four years I've spoken with more than a few Downtown business and building owners willing to provide a small chunk of space and the minimal juice for access point deployments. BrianR and I have explored using solar-powered, weather-hardened rigs, strategically meshed to cover a wide area. If the Town used this environmentally sound and quite economical approach, the only remaining requirement is a decent position to throw signal.

Speaking of signal, whatever free access is deployed Downtown should stay off the already saturated channels 1, 6 and 11.

Knowing the free access topology of Downtown like the back of my hand, I encouraged him to consider West End, with a current lack of free Wifi access points (beyond UNC's) and high density of public gathering spots (restaurants, bars,sidewalk cafes, coffee joints, bookstores), for the initial pilot.

That's a few of my suggestions for equipment, deployment strategy and location, what are yours?


I applaud Bob Avery for moving forward on starting a pilot project. Hopefully he'll reach out to the Chapel Hill community for help. (individuals and private businesses) I think the Town of Carrboro's small wifi network was built in part by volunteer labor and business partnerships.

This is good idea for the Town of Chapel Hill not just because it could be cheaper but because it builds a sense of community ownership. The people Mr. Avery, Manager, Mayor, and Council reach out to don't have to be the usual suspects. (aka me and WIllR). :) There are so many technologically savvy people in our community. Think about the positive PR and increased since of civic responsibility. Lets help citizens feel needed and listened too.

Also think about the direct economic development impacts. Again in Carrboro the Town's network has been extended to local business to support their efforts. (Weaver St., Open Eye Cafe,...) In turn the commercial tax base is strengthened.

As always I am happy to help facilitate this outreach. One excellent method is to conduct a Chapel Hill Community Wireless Unconference. I suggested this a few council meetings ago. It could be an event created and run by locals. Lets try a new form of civic engagement supported by government but run by the people!

*clap clap clap*


I like the solar approach, but I also think they should "just do it" without delay. The businesses would be on board so easily.. I'd suggest Chapel Hill Comics, the Wine Bar and the Dead Mule, for instance. It doesn't seem like that would take much convincing. (BTW, Ham's already has wifi..)

"West End Wifi" has a nice ring to it

I wonder if the shops along Franklin could be convinced to participate somehow for the greater good. I believe that Starbucks and Caribou both have wireless (Starbucks I'm assuming has their pay to play wireless that most of them have). Are there any other businesses along the street that have wireless and could be convinced to participate somehow in "expansion"?

Bill, I think that is actually being discussed over here.

I'd be interested in any responses to this Slashdot article:


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