Wireless comes to Dover
Looking to visit Dover, NH in the near future? Make sure you bring your wifi connected devices. For about a year now Dover has offered public access to wireless internet in several key areas around the city.
The wireless pilot project was championed by City Manager Michael Joyal and Dover Main Street Member Michael Provost. It took over a year to complete with over $34,000 in total expenditures bringing four new access points online. The equipment was installed in a mix of public and private buildings. Three of the four locations blanket the downtown areas of McConnell Grounds, Henry Law Park, and Cocheco Falls area with strong wireless signals. The fourth location is the Dover Transportation Center.
Spearheading the project was Dover's I.T. Director Annie Dove. Dove, who relied on input from Town officials and others that live in the area, picked sites "where people are known to congregate downtown” rather than sites chosen by more scientific methods. When a location could not be used for technical reasons, a suitable alternate was found. The pilot program supported four hot spots, Dove envisions many more will be added in the years to come as citizens and businesses realize the network’s potential.
Early in the design process Dover decided against using a conventional meshed approach for wireless connectivity instead allowing individual Comcast business Internet connections for each access point. The configuration allows each site to access abundant Internet bandwidth without the overhead of meshing access points together, as well as satisfying the terms of the Comcast grant. The network still maintains meshing capability should the city ever wish to go down that route in the future. The discrete Internet connections do not hinder Dover’s central Cisco wireless management and authentication infrastructure. Each access point connects to a head end via a virtual private network connection.
Funding Comcast and NH grants
Dove built the RFP around one item, cost. Wireless service is certainly an expensive proposition for any small city. Dover was lucky enough to find two additional sources of funding through Comcast and NH Division of Economic Development Telecom & Technology Matching Grant program. These two sources allowed Dover to leverage the small pool of available funding for the project. Without them, the project would likely have remained a pipedream.
Bidding and Response
The request for proposal Dove created for the wireless program did not specify which hardware vendor or brand must be used. Instead, she left the choice of hardware to the wireless vendors who would inevitably be implementing the technology. Seven vendors were explicitly solicited. Four vendors submitted bids. Three submitted bids met the project specifications. Summit Technologies of Williston, VT was determined to have the best solution that the project’s funding would support.
Troubled ISP policy
How was Dover able to host public hot spots using standard Comcast business connections? Dove went through a time consuming and often frustrating process of amending the standard Comcast business terms and conditions. Working through Dover’s legal department she was able to convince Comcast that the service Dover was looking to provide would not be in direct competition with service already provided by Comcast. To this end, doverwirless.net imposes an artificial 45 minute session limit forcing clients to re-authenticate. By imposing this limit, Dove believes that enough inconvenience is created for residents in the coverd areas that they will not rely on doverwirless.net for primary Internet access.
Repeatable and sustainable
Could Dover’s wireless pilot program be used as a model for other communities? Dove claims yes and there is good evidence to back up her assertion. While her operating budget has increased to cover the monthly costs of added Internet connectivity, and long term maintenance costs will be a factor for years to come, the public/private partnerships the project has produced will help to offset these increases. Dove believes that there is plenty of funding for Towns and Cities looking to implement public wireless access, especially for the initial phases. Recently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in coordination with the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) announced billions of dollars for broadband connectivity programs nationwide through their Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). BTOP could serve as a spring board for many municipalities to offer some form of wireless access. Ultimately it comes down to finding the right funding mix to meet wireless demand. Dover was able to combine two solid grant programs for the pilot program this may or may not be the reality for other municipalities looking at a public wireless deployment.
doverwireless.net offers a publically viewable bandwidth monitor page for the network at http://activity.doverwireless.net
You can find supporting information for the complete the Dover pilot wireless program in the NHLoGIN Document Library.
View Dover Wireless in a larger map
By: Luke Vincent
May 26, 2009