By the end of April, 8.25 million square feet of free wi-fi coverage will be available through 77 access points in The Dalles and work continues to strengthen the system.
“We appreciate the opportunity to do this project and hopefully you’re seeing it shine and the value of having it in town,” said Aaron Dean at the Jan. 27 city council meeting.
Dean works for Gorge Networks, the Hood River-based company that has installed equipment to expand service and monitors usage. He was joined at a briefing about the system by Alex Morris and Dan Bubb, president and executive officer of the internet provider.
“We really think it’s important to define what success is,” said Bubb.
For that reason, he, Morris and Dean believe it is important for people to contact Gorge Networks as soon as they encounter problems with coverage.
“We want the calls, we want them directly and we want them timely,” said Dean.
He said calls or emails of complaint are most often routed through the city and then get passed on, which makes it more difficult to track down problems in a timely manner. He asked if city officials could provide a link to Gorge Networks on their website or otherwise make contact information more readily available.
“It makes it very difficult to troubleshoot and find out what was happening in real-time because we are now hearing second or third hand,” he said.
Gorge Networks can be reached online at www.gorge.net or by calling 541-386-8300, ext. 306, or 888-508-2363, ext. 306.
Dean said the wi-fi system in The Dalles is intended to be used outdoors in places where people congregate. So the signal weakens considerably when people attempt access from inside a building or near power lines, trees and tall structures.
“It’s not always a seamless transition from Point A to Point B,” he said.
He said exceptions to that rule have been made so wi-fi can be accessed inside the Discovery Center and also soon inside the Civic Auditorium. The new access points that will be completed as part of phase four this spring include: Quinton Street Ball Park, Kelly Viewpoint and west on Sixth Street from Webber Street to Chenoweth Loop Road.
“We’re just trying to create a more continuous coverage,” said Morris.
She said a count of connected clients in January had 80 on one day at Taco Time alone, with numbers almost as high at nearby Fred Meyer and other businesses along Sixth Street. She said those numbers would rise dramatically during the summer months when people were out and about more often.
“Typically, users are downloading information on wi-fi,” said Morris.
During 2013, she said about 15,000 users had accessed the system and Dean said it was time to get a policy in place about how to deal with people who “abused” the privilege.
He defined abuse as anyone who overloaded an access point with traffic, such as downloading games and movies. He said these individuals were taking advantage of the system at the expense of others in order to avoid paying a user fee.
“It slows the network down when they flood it with traffic and it’s hard to manage when it’s congested,” he said.
He said in order for Gorge Networks to “police” the network, there needed to be policies established about how that would be done.
“Whose job is it to pull the trigger when you have abuse?” he asked. “Whose job is it and what does it look like?”
Nolan Young, city manager, said the intent of the network was to be as open as possible and asked if access could be denied solely to the individual who abused the system.
“It’s difficult to limit one person,” said Dean, who said an entire access point was likely to be affected by restrictions on service.
He also said a plan needed to be put in place for replacement of equipment as the system aged.
“We just wanted to leave you with a few things to consider,” he said.
Gorge Networks has been working for the last three years in partnership with the city, Google and Q-Life to get wi-fi coverage throughout town. The goal was to make sure the Internet was available for phones, tablets and laptops being used by tourists and travelers, as well as local residents.
Google initiated the
wi-fi program by providing the city with a $130,000 grant in 2011 to cover equipment and installation costs. The city then went through the public bidding process to select Gorge Networks to perform the work. Q-Life, the intergovernmental organization that runs the fiber-optic loop in The Dalles, contributed $10,000 for installation of the fiber and $7,000 for the initial study. During the last two years, the city has compiled a priority list for likely expansion and Google has provided the funding.
Google’s contribution to the program is now close to $250,000 and Q-Life’s almost $100,000.
Per an agreement with Google, the system must be free for at least three years. After that point, the future of the system will be decided by the city.