Walking through the downtown areas of Johnstown and Gloversville with a smart phone scanning for available Wi-Fi connections brings to mind the sentiments of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”: water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
Private Wi-Fi networks, some owned by businesses, saturate the downtowns of the Glove Cities, but most are locked and unavailable to people walking on the streets. At a time when free Wi-Fi connections are offered in neighborhoods of larger cities like Albany, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, local Wi-Fi seems to be restricted to patrons of specific businesses.
Since 2007, Frontier Communications has operated fee-based public Wi-Fi networks in the two cities. The network in Johnstown is shaped like a reverse L, starting on West Main Street, running through East Main Street and then north along Route 30 until about the Holiday Inn. In Gloversville the network runs from the Pine Brook Golf Course on South Main Street. up to State Street, with a bulge in the middle to accommodate coverage on East and West Fulton streets.
Frontier General Manager Todd Rulison said it requires a “considerable” number of transmitters to maintain the wireless network in the two cities, but said maintenance costs have remained low for the network.
“[The transmitters] have to be, not quite line-of-sight but pretty close. We have a mesh network that overlaps itself, so if one transmitter goes down, the other one has the ability to pick it up and transmit it to a main access point,” he said. “From the maintenance standpoint, it’s been really reliable. Fiberoptics provides a real reliable transmission medium. We haven’t had many issues with the radios and the access points. It’s been real stable.”?
The fee structure for the Frontier networks has changed in recent years, allowing more short-term use. Frontier allows users to connect with the network for free for five minutes by going to www.frontierwifi.com when within range of the downtown networks. After the first five minutes, the charge increases to $1.99 per hour after that. A day pass is $4.99, a two-day pass costs $9.99, seven days costs $19.99 and a 30-day pass is $29.99. When the networks were first put in place the fees were slightly higher. Rulison said the price change has reflected those changes
“[Frontier changed the fees to] continue to get interest in the product and to generate more users and to keep the price competitive,” he said.
Unlimited access to the Frontier Wi-Fi networks is available to the company’s regular Internet service subscribers for a $9.99-per-month charge. Rulison said Frontier has about 1,300 accounts signed up for the unlimited Wi-Fi access, which includes access to all of Frontier’s citywide Wi-Fi networks in the United States, the closest being in Rochester.
Rulison said Frontier has no plans to expand its user-fee Wi-Fi network locally, in part because the company believes the Wi-Fi access business is moving more toward hot spot locations known as “anchor tenants.”
“The interest initially was significant, but market conditions and technology continue to change, and today our focus on growing our base is around anchor tenants and Wi-Fi hotspots. Those are for hotels, car dealerships, banks, restaurants, anywhere where people gather. That’s what we’re focusing on today. The users expect it, they go into a car dealership and they expect broadband to be available.”
In a move that signifies the growing importance of Wi-Fi, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that free Wi-Fi networks would now be available to visitors at Niagara Falls, Jones Beach, Saratoga Spa and East River state parks.
So far, neither Johnstown nor Gloversville has signed up to pay for free Wi-Fi hot spots in public parks.
“If one of the cities wanted to offer free?Internet access in a park, or a particular location, we would love to have those conversations,” Rulison said.
Chris Curro, the manager of the Mohawk Valley Harvest Cooperative Market in Gloversville, said his store has a Wi-Fi network that is available to customers, but the network turns off when the store closes.
“On occasion, we’ve had Internet squatters outside our door, and that’s not a good thing for downtown. We’re trying to make downtown a warmer, welcoming place and Wi-Fi is kind of a part of that,” he said. “[The Frontier network functions] poorly. When I first came here, I was told there would be Wi-Fi, but it’s hit and miss. Having more Wi-Fi downtown could be a great idea if it were implemented properly.”
Johnstown Mayor Michael Julius said he hasn’t discussed the idea of creating a city-owned free Wi-Fi hotspot downtown, but he thinks the idea is intriguing.
“I think it could be a draw for a lot of people, the young generation wants this,” he said. “I think it’s a nice idea, but it all hinges on the cost. My gut feeling is it would be a draw. People could come downtown, spend money and surf the net. Anything that can make the city cool is good.”?