2017-08-10 / News

DDC implements first downtown hotspot

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A wireless Internet hotspot has been installed downtown thanks to the Downtown Development Commission, Axiom Technologies and several others. The hotspot was placed on the roof of city hall over the weekend and has a range of about 500 feet in any direction around the building. The Wi-Fi is free for anyone to use and as of Monday, Aug. 8, 20 people had connected without any issues. Users can select “Connect Downtown” from the list of available networks on devices with wireless capabilities.

Axiom Technologies President Mark Ouellette said GWI, a Biddeford-based Internet service provider, agreed to provide three years of bandwidth at no cost. After that time, the contract with GWI will have to be renegotiated. Bangor Savings Bank also paid $3,000 for the cost of the equipment and installation. After the first year the hotspot is running, Ouellette said Bangor Savings Bank will pay $1,000 per year in maintenance as long as it receives monthly usage reports.

Commission members are interested in more hotspots, but each one will require another sponsor. Ouellette does not know if GWI will provide bandwidth for additional hotspots, but expects it will be willing to discuss the opportunity.

“The most difficult piece is getting sponsors to do this,” he said.

Once users connect to the downtown Biddeford hotspot, the first page that opens, called a splash page, will be the Bangor Savings Bank website. From the splash page users can navigate to whichever website they choose. Ouellette said Biddeford can expect at least a few hundred users a month and that should help entice business owners.

“A group of downtown businesses could work together and contribute $500 each to put one of these up,” he said.

In Millinocket, where Ouellette has helped install several hotspots, the splash page thanks several different sponsors and has links to their websites. Users are able to walk through Millinocket between hotspots without losing connectivity or having to revisit the splash page. Ouellette said the same will be true of Biddeford once more hotspots are installed.

Bill Durkin, commission chairman, hopes to have signs for the hotspot installed within the week. He said Ouellette was critical in making the hotspot a reality, as well as former commission Chairman Brian Keely, who approached the commission as a private citizen with the idea and Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford who contacted different wireless providers.

Durkin said the hotspot is one of the ways the commission plans to stay relevant in light of the Downtown Improvement District. Durkin hopes the commission can continue to focus on the RiverWalk for its next project.

“For our next meeting I can get the city planner to bring us up to speed on where things stand and get feedback on where we can help,” Durkin said.

The ommission is operating without a budget, but Durkin said it operated without funding 20 years ago and acted as a voice between the city and public. He said the commission was able to get involved in projects that didn’t require spending such as advocating for clean streets and snow removal.

“The commission started a lot of things in existence right now,” Durkin said.

Julian Schlaver, a downtown business owner, said the Downtown Improvement District does not look definite, however. Schlaver is also a member of the Downtown Task Force, which meets Thursdays and plans to make a recommendation to city council soon about creating a consistent downtown area. The recommendation will likely include plans for similar sidewalks and downtown gateways, which would indicate the downtown border through some form of signage. Schlaver said each group is still doing something different and there is a place for all of them.

“In this situation, it’s not like there are too many cooks in the kitchen,” Schlaver said. “The groups are not trying to do the same thing.”

The next Downtown Development Commission meeting is scheduled for the Monday following Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 11.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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