News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 20, 2014
Stonington Selectmen Board backs WiFi plan to increase downtown access

by Rich Hewitt

It will take a while to produce a plan to develop reliable cell phone service in the downtown area.

But last week, at their March 10 meting, the Stonington selectmen backed a plan to expand WiFi availability as a way to provide broader Internet access while the town works on a cell phone plan.

Several buildings in the downtown area already have WiFi service, which provides a wireless connection to the Internet, including the town office, the fish pier, fire station and sanitary district, the library and several Main Street businesses.

According to Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris, there is a way to strengthen the signal at each of those sites so that, essentially, they would overlap, providing seamless coverage throughout the downtown area.

Billings-Pezaris told selectmen that she has discussed the issue with S.W. Rollins, the company that upgraded the computer system at the town office, and the WiFi expansion is possible. It could cost several thousand dollars for the technology needed to accomplish the expansion, and Billing-Pezaris said there may be grant funding available to cover some of the costs.

The Stonington Economic Development Committee has indicated its support for the project, she said, adding that the key will be working with the downtown business owners to see if they are willing to participate in the expansion.

“I want to firm up the quote and talk with the business people to partner with them to create a WiFi district,” she said.

The selectmen have discussed the issue of communications downtown before and have expressed concern over the impact the lack of cell phone coverage could have on tourism. More than once they have noted that people from away expect to have an available cell phone signal. Although WiFi is different than a cell phone signal, the expanded system would provide a means for people—locals and visitors alike—to communicate with the rest of the world from downtown Stonington.

Selectmen backed the idea and authorized the town manager to continue to develop the plan, but did not authorize the expenditure of funds. Ben Barrows suggested, however, that it would be good to have the expanded system in place before the summer season.

Billings-Pezaris said she would begin talking with business people and get firm numbers from S.W. Rollins. She will bring the cost estimates back to the board for approval before spending any funds on the expansion.