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Newton offers free Wi-Fi access

Newton offers free Wi-Fi access

NEWTON, NC (May 23, 2012) -- The City of Newton offers a municipal wireless (Wi-Fi) network to enable mobile data applications for City staff and to provide free wireless Internet access for the general public. Currently, the network consists mainly of the downtown area.

The goals of the City's Wi-Fi project are to attract more customers to the downtown business district, support small businesses, encourage the use of public parks and facilities, and enable more citizens to access services online.

In 2011, Clay pitched the idea to the Newton City Council during their annual workshop.

“We wanted to explain the technology and how it could be used,” Clay stated. “However, at that time the price quotes we had for a downtown network ranged from $50,000 to $150,000. That cost was just too difficult to justify.” newton wifi

The City’s IS Department decided to develop their own low-cost solution. The network is comprised of mesh nodes from Meraki and point to multi-point backhaul nodes from Ubiquiti. 

“We had to find a good, inexpensive solution to distribute Wi-Fi. By marrying these two products and buying direct, we built exactly what we needed and drastically reduced the cost,” Clay said. “Currently, we only have $3,000 invested in this Wi-Fi project which is now available outdoors in the downtown business district, at the City pool, at Jacob Fork Park, and inside City Hall.”

During the first phase of the project, the City’s electric crew assisted the IS staff with the installation of antennas on City resources such as water tanks, City facilities, and utility poles. 

Clay explained why the City has created a free Wi-Fi network, which is called “City of Newton Free.”

“Currently the City has surplus Internet bandwidth so it just makes sense to share it with the citizens,” he said. “We do have bandwidth limitations set so the free Wi-Fi cannot interfere with City data traffic.” 

City staff also utilizes the wireless network for many internal uses such as monitoring the City’s water supply and electrical grid, and for Police mobile data terminals. Plans are in the works for many new public safety mobile applications that would give officers real-time access to data. Wireless is also planned to be used by mobile workers in other city departments, providing them access to applications and information in the field that previously was only available from their offices. City employees who will likely utilize the Wi-Fi network include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the street division, and public works.

“The City found it too costly to provide cellular data cards to all of the city’s mobile workers,” Clay related. “By owning the wireless network, the City will have the flexibility of expanding the system, controlling the security, and managing the capacity. Plus, the area’s 3G coverage is spotty and 4G isn’t even here.”    

“Given the success so far, our goal is to continue expanding the network to include the entire city limits,” Clay stated.

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