The Bennington Selectboard recently voted to accept a grant that will bring free wireless Internet to a portion of the downtown. The board also agreed to take on costs associated with that grant.
The town applied for a Downtown Wireless Grant through the Vermont Council on Rural Development Grant in March. In late July, the VCRD awarded the town that grant -- which is for the project and not for a specific monetary value, according to Michael Harrington, Bennington's economic and community development director.
Harrington presented this information at the Selectboard's Monday meeting.
"It's a project award, so there's no money actually exchanging hands. The grant covers some installation but there will be a monthly expense," Harrington said. "We don't know what that monthly cost would be."
VCRD has agreed to fund the setup of between two and four access points in town, each spanning about a city block. Given four accesses, the initial access point would likely be set up on the Bennington Police Department building at 119 South St., with a second point set up near the Four Corners intersection, and then one a block in each direction on Main Street, according to Harrington.
"That will probably be the core range for now," he said. "It doesn't reach very far," he noted, saying the grant is intended to provide a start for the town's wireless Internet, with additional access points something the town could add in the future.
The access points would consist of a small white box with two antennae that attach to a building and require minimal electricity from that building. Alternatively, it may be possible to put the boxes on lightposts and tap into the town's power source, Harrington said.
The cost to the town up front would be the cost of a dedicated Internet line, which will be a minimal amount but is an addition to the town's budget this year, Harrington notes.
After the five years of the grant funding expires, the town would take on the cost of the regular maintenance and service of the access points. For four access points it's estimated dedicated Internet line and landing page hosting would cost about $1,284 per year. After year five, the town would inherit that cost, plus a yearly monitoring system estimated to run about $600 yearly.
The benefits of having external public wireless in the downtown are that it will attract and support tourists, recreational users and commercial users to stop and stay awhile.
It differs from the existing Long Trail wireless available at some downtown businesses that doesn't reach beyond their doors. Harrington noted that the bandwidth with that kind of public wireless decreases with every new user on that kind of wireless. He said the VCRD installation will support a stronger, commercial-grade wireless signal.
The timeframe for the project depends on how quickly VCRD can begin work, now that the town has accepted the grant award.
"It could be as early as Thanksgiving or as late as next spring," Harrington said.