23 Jun

Ten years of free wireless Internet access in the downtown

By Charles Mcmahon June 22, 2013 2:00 AM
PORTSMOUTH — Ten years of free wireless Internet access in the downtown came full circle for its founders Thursday in Market Square.

A decade ago, both Erik Crago and Scott Campbell were sitting in the city’s center marvelling over the fast Internet speeds they were getting on their oversized laptops. On Thursday, the pair returned to the scene of that signal, only this time, they were armed with smartphones instead of outdated computers and PDAs.

Crago and Campbell started the free Internet service in 2003 as members of the eCoast board of directors.

Both say they remember the day like it was yesterday.

“In the April 2003 monthly board meeting, Jennifer Chinburg, the chamber liaison to the eCoast at the time, asked for ideas from the group on things we could offer the community,” Crago said. “After the meeting, I was having coffee downtown with Scott and we got talking about WiFi. We were both on the WiFi bandwagon and we thought it would be cool to have WiFi in Portsmouth for us to use, and to get some good press for our town.”

When starting the service, Crago said, the goals were to not only get the city some positive publicity following the stock market crash of 2002, but also to also demonstrate that local businesses have the ingenuity to provide free WiFi to the general public.

“A couple of small-business owners, having coffee, who love Portsmouth, did something pretty damn amazing for the greater good of the city we love,” he said.

After a couple of years of success, Crago said the city took notice and stepped in to take the service over, along with the Chamber of Commerce. They also had big players like Cisco jump into the mix to donate their equipment, he said.

Today, the project is being led by the city, BayRing Communications, which supplied the high-speed Internet and fiber access to the development, and Single Digits, which is installing the WiFi access points and will manage the system behind the Internet’s login page.

Campbell said the free WiFi has paid dividends for visitors to the downtown over the years. One notable example was during the ice storm of 2008, when thousands of people in the city were left without power and were able to rely on the free Internet service in the downtown.

The city’s information technology coordinator, Alan Brady, said the free WiFi could not have been achieved without public-private partnerships.

“The city was very fortunate to receive equipment that other communities were paying tens of thousands of dollars for,” Brady said. “We were a test bed for this equipment, installed it in locations that were not an eyesore and not the ‘norm’, we all worked closely with the engineers at Cisco and gave them feedback, while they were still here in Portsmouth.

Brady said one of main engineers at Cisco, Gerard Goubert, designed the current system. Although he no longer works for Cisco, Goubert continues to troubleshoot the network with his new company, Single Digits, which is still actively involved in the current downtown WiFi, according to Brady.

“It’s nice to see it still working and people enjoying the service,” he said.

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