Downtown Berlin To Offer Free Wireless Access

BERLIN — Downtown Berlin will be connecting in a whole new way now that town officials are moving forward with the expansion of free wireless (Wi-Fi) Internet service to most of the commercial district.

Originally suggested by Councilwoman Lisa Hall last autumn, Mayor Gee Williams revealed that Berlin has looked into offering free Wi-Fi before but always balked at the price. However, a recent estimate from NGX Grid, a Virginia firm based, has made Wi-Fi coverage a much more palatable expense.

“The cost is substantially lower than originally thought … thousands and thousands less than what we originally thought,” said Williams.

The figure cited is $2,596, with the council agreeing to spend up to $3,000.

According to Town Administrator Tony Carson, previous estimates for the service were brutal. “The cost was probably about 10-15 times that,” he said.

Other towns similar to Berlin’s size have paid at least $50,000 to set up a free Wi-Fi service to residents, added Carson.

Berlin has an advantage that others lack in that town hall already has a wireless Internet infrastructure in place. The plan is to simply extend the Wi-Fi already available at town hall throughout most of the downtown, including parts of Main, Washington, West and Jefferson streets.

To spread coverage, three relays will need to be installed around downtown. One will sit on top of town hall. The other two will need to be spread out to maximize Wi-Fi reception, according to Electric Utilities Director Tim Lawrence. Each of the relays will require electricity to operate, though Lawrence equated the amount of power needed to what a standard light bulb will draw.

The town will be looking for property owners in the coverage area willing to house a relay. Placing the relays on top of streetlights was mentioned as an alternative option, though Lawrence pointed out that because the lamps are lower than the Berlin skyline, placing relays there could mean signal blocking issues.

Work on the expanding Wi-Fi should begin within the next month, according to Williams, who hopes everything will be in place sometime early summer. Carson called the move a “good investment”.

Hall was also excited to see something checked off of her wish list for the town. “I think we’re getting a lot of bang for our dollar,” she said.