It’s time for N.H. cities to revive the wi-fi buzz
The big buzz around free wi-fi has died out, as big buzzes tend to do, but that doesn’t mean the wireless Internet protocol with the catchy name is dying along with it. Manchester certainly doesn’t think so.
“Our idea, although not modeled after Portsmouth in any way, is similar to what motivated them,” said Robin Comstock, president of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. “We’re going after that ‘cool factor’ — people still find it very interesting and exciting. And many people have not yet experienced it.”
The chamber is rolling out a free “hot spot” this month at 1 City Hall Plaza, similar to the one that has been operating around the Market Square area of Portsmouth for a year.
One difference is that Manchester’s coverage area includes City Hall, which means that aldermen may be able to get wireless e-mail in the middle of public meetings.
“The hope is to include alderman chambers in wireless service, so aldermen can have their laptops in front of them and communicate with constituents,” said Comstock. “We’ve observed many issues where aldermen were wishing for ways to better hear from people. Many, during breaks, pop back to their laptops to check (e-mail).”
Portsmouth is the closest thing New Hampshire has to a “cool” locale, and Manchester wouldn’t find a touch of that panache. The Queen City has done some amazing things with its Millyard and downtown, but despite those and the airport and Verizon Center and Fisher Cats, it’s still got a frumpy image to overcome. Getting listed on wardriving charts can’t hurt. I’m a little surprised it’s taken so long for another city to follow Portsmouth’s lead in this.
The Port City is already moving into its second wi-fi phase, expanding coverage into Prescott Park and the municipal marina, and shifting the program from the oversight of a few techy enthusiasts to the regional eCoast organization. That group gives out free accounts as long as you fill out a short survey about your age, interests and the like, turning the free node into an information-gathering tool. (Check www.ecoastwifi.org for information.)
The Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce says more than 600 users hooked up last year, and hopes for twice that number this year.
Even outside Portsmouth, there’s a reasonable amount of 802.11 connections (to use the “real” name) in the state.
Most of our colleges have at least one hot spot — Dartmouth has been a wireless-Net innovator for years — while a dozen or more hotels, bookstores and coffee shops use free or for-profit wi-fi as a lure. And, of course, the occasional node, left open through generosity or ignorance, can be found by the antenna-equipped laptop.
But you would think that more cities would join in. Nashua has touted those Money magazine rankings until they’re blue in the face. Surely they wouldn’t mind coughing up a couple thousands bucks to encourage laptop-toting diners on Main Street.
Concord seems an obvious spot, too: They could put the server inside the John Stark statue in front of the State House!
But aside from public libraries (five have hot spots as I write this, with a couple more coming), few cities have joined. Nashua has touted those Money magazine rankings until they’re blue in the face; surely they wouldn’t mind coughing up a few bucks to encourage laptop-toting diners on Main Street.
Concord seems obvious , too: They could put a router inside the John Stark statue in front of the State House!
Keene, Laconia, Conway, Dover, Berlin – how about it? If there’s a city hall in New Hampshire, there should be a free hot spot. Now that would be a way to bring back the buzz.
David Brooks writes about science and technology for the Telegraph of Nashua. His column appears monthly.