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Proposal Would Put Public WiFi All Over Newport's Business District

Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso was talking recently with a visitor who complimented the city's Monmouth Street.

"He said, we love Monmouth Street. It's the coolest place," the mayor recounted, "but you need WiFi. Just think, if you could get it you'd have all kinds of people here.

"So this is great timing."

Peluso was speaking of a presentation by Nexigen's Jon Salisbury and Russ Middleton about a proposal that could place high speed internet access available to the public all around Newport's downtown area. Salisbury said that Nexigen had heard from Newport Independent Schools Superintendent Kelly Middleton about difficulties students face in having access to the internet after school hours. While all students in the district have their own iPad, many can't access necessary information because there is no internet or data plan available at home.

So, there have been a dozen or so meetings with Cincinnati Bell and 20 people representing Newport interests about a WiFi network that could span much of Newport, "and does so in a way that costs the city a very low amount of capital, if any at all," Salisbury said.

Instead of the usual method of Cincinnati Bell charging a municipality to place access points in the city, Salisbury and his team have suggested that businesses would unite and sign up for services equal to what they are paying now and then Cincinnati Bell would provide the public service at no cost to the city.

The benefits, Salisbury said, would be that kids would have access to high speed internet, new businesses would be interested in Newport because of the WiFi network, and existing businesses would get a new marketing channel because if a the public WiFi is being used near a business, an advertisement for that business would be displayed.

Before the Newport City Commission, which heard the proposal at Monday night's caucus meeting, could approve a plan, Salisbury said members of his team would be meeting with local business owners to fill them in on details. 

How it would work: There would be 300 feet of coverage in each direction up and down Monmouth Street, then east to west on Sixth Street to connect the system to York Street up to Eighth Street.
 
"The initial vision is with no cost to the city," Salisbury said. The system could be even bigger. "The more businesses we get signed up, the more coverage area we get."
 
Commissioner Thomas Guidugli, who has been involved in the proposal's planning, referenced the city's "digital divide" which would be bridged by such a program. "Kids can watch educational content without buffering or anything else. These units talk to each other so if one is overloaded, the other one will pick up," he said. "They can wak down Monmouth Street and switch from location to location and remain connected."
 
Guidugli said that he has seen kids outside Newport High School after hours trying to gain access to the district's internet. "This is a winner for our community and it's really exciting and I think we are on a good path, we just have to keep things moving," he said.
 
What the infrastructure would like, particularly in a historic district, is not yet determined. 
 
"You have to continue to be progressive and this is a way to do that, to keep your city ahead of the curve," the mayor said. "Whether you like it or not, we are in competition with other cities in this region."
 
Guidugli thanked Nexigen, the growing information technology firm in the city, for being at the table because that is why Cincinnati Bell was willing to listen, he said.
 
Conversations with business owners will begin soon and then a final plan for the city commission's consideration will be presented at a later date.
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: Public WiFi in Minneapolis (via Wiki Commons)