Over a month since the opening of its first ever public library, the city of Alton is continuing with its push into the digital age with a city-wide project that will bring free Wi-Fi to Alton residents.
Dubbed the Alton Smart City Wi-Fi Project, Alton will provide 1.5 megahertz of free Wi-Fi through the construction of service towers around town as part of a public-private partnership with the Edinburg-based company Wifirus, an Edinburg-based company, according to Steve Peña, Chief Executive Officer of the City of Alton Development Corporation.
“The original intent was to get some sort of level of Wi-Fi to the kids within and outside our city jurisdiction that don’t have access to internet so they can hook up to this and do their homework,” Peña explained. “That’s the whole premise, then it started to get bigger and this partnership happened.”
As part of the partnership, Peña said the CADC would pay for the infrastructure to build service towers and antennas with a capacity of providing Wi-Fi to a service radius of 800 square feet. The first phase, currently ongoing, erected four service towers and added antennas to two existing towers around the city’s crossroads of Alton Boulevard and Mile 5 road.
“So if you go to Elizondo Park, Sylvia Vela Park and our business park, you’ll get the free Wi-Fi,” Peña said, adding that the city plans to have 12 or 13 towers built in four separate phases-each one costing around $400,000-for a total of $1.7 million.
Wifirus, meanwhile will cover operational costs in maintaining the towers, saving the city $20,000 per year, Peña said.
The project would take about two to three years, Peña estimated, as more phases erect service towers throughout the city. Even with all the service towers, Peña noted that the available bandwidth won’t be able to penetrate homes or areas with too many trees. However, residents can contact Wifirus for packaged deals for stronger internet service at a discounted rate, he said.
The Smart City Wi-Fi Project is part of the city’s ongoing push to bridge the digital divide amongst residents, Peña said. To accommodate that bridge, the city opened the digital and traditional library last January that is housed inside Mission Collegiate High School. The library offers a Digi-Tech lab, a computer lab with 24 computers that allows access to the public to more than 13,000 books to download and read outside the library.
“We are in a digital age and this is the way of the future,” Pena said of both projects.” Everything is being digitized and as you can see, when you have children in the colonias or areas with no internet service, they tend to be lacking because they can’t do their homework without internet.”
The city also purchased a $178,000 digital billboard to be placed right outside the city’s Regional Training Center to be paid off in four yearly installments, Peña said.
As part of their Regional Training Center, which Peña said should open in April, the city purchased three 80-inch touchscreen monitors each valued at $2,000 that the center will use in a classroom setting, Pena said.
At their Tuesday city council meeting, the city approved the purchase of new radios and laptops for vehicles in the city’s fire and police departments valued at $83,500.
“Schools are starting to push things off digitally. Books are becoming a thing of the past so we have to be ahead of that,” Peña said. “We need to invest it in our infrastructure for our service and community, it’s why we’re investing in these digital components for the city.”