MARLBORO -- Town residents who can’t get broadband, and who are frustrated with the slow pace of upgrading their service at home, now have an option when trying to get online.
The town center has a new Wi-Fi booster that extends the DSL signal from town hall to the church, Town House, as well as in a 200 foot radius around the town hall parking lot.
Marlboro Town Clerk Forrest Holzapfel said he has already seen people using the service and said it will be useful during Town Meeting this year.
"It’s been great," Holzapfel said. "It’s going to be great for people who do not have DSL at home and need to do business."
The system went live just before Christmas.
Marlboro still has a number of pockets throughout town where home owners and businesses can not get high-speed Internet, and the area remains one of the more challenging regions to serve due to its topography.
Holzapfel said the town hall service can not replace getting broadband in the home, and there are limits on the streaming capabilities of the public system, but he said for those who have no access to broadband the new hot spot offers at least a way to get on to the Internet.
"We still have people who are trying to get it in their home and it has been very frustrating for them," Holzapfel said. "This won’t really take the place of having high speed at home, but it helps.
The town was able to boost its signal with a grant it recently won through the Vermont Digital Economy Project, a program administered by the Vermont Council on Rural Development.
The Vermont Digital Economy Project has been working with towns that were affected by Tropical Storm Irene, using federal disaster relief funding to improve broadband service so that if another disaster hits there would be a more robust emergency communication system in place.
Vermont Digital Economy Project Director Sharon Combes-Farr said the improved Wi-Fi service can also act as an economic development engine, as more tourists travel with their smart phones looking for services.
"This can be one more tool a town can use to revitalize its downtown," Combes-Farr said. "If a town has an empty storefront they can say there is high speed service available and there are better options for leveraging more digital services."
Vermont was able to develop the Vermont Digital Economy Project through a $1.8 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant.
Other Windham County towns that have been awarded the federal money to boost DSL service include Brattleboro, Guilford, Dover and Wilmington.
Marlboro is also getting help to build a new town web site with the federal money, and 35 other communities around Vermont are putting the federal dollars to work to improve their digital capabilities and strengthen disaster relief infrastructure.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.