State partnership to expand rural public Wi-Fi access

The North Bennington Depot will be the location of a WiFi hot spot serving the village.

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In an effort to increase internet access, Vermont is partnering with multiple companies to deploy public WiFi hot spots in 31 rural locations, including North Bennington, Readsboro, Sandgate and Sunderland.

Device installation began last Saturday, starting at the Wheelock town offices in Wheelock, according to a media release from Gov. Phil Scott's office.

Broadband remains a "critical resource" for Vermonters in rural areas to stay connected and work and learn remotely during the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" period, Scott said, referring to his order issued March 24.

That order, part of the state's ongoing response to the spread of COVID-19, directed nonessential businesses and nonprofits in the state to stop in-person operations and residents to stay home as much as possible, leaving only for essential reasons like grocery shopping and medical care. Last week, that order was extended to May 15.

In North Bennington, the public WiFi spot is set to be the train station. In Readsboro, Sandgate and Sunderland, those spots are: the town office and school, the town hall and the town office building, respectively.

Over 50 communities in Vermont reached out to the Department of Public Service about the WiFi service, according to the release.Sites were selected on a first-come, first-serve basis, but the department initially focused on identifying towns that, according to data, lacked a public WiFi hot spot, Clay Purvis, director of telecommunications and connectivity at the department, said in an email.

"The remaining towns will be put on a waiting list and we will try our best to provide solutions for these towns as new resources become available," he said.

Public host institutions need to have existing broadband service and agree to host the equipment.

The locations are not all up and running — at least three have been completed and more are on the way, Purvis said.

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"This is a work in progress" and work is being done as fast as possible to set up the systems, he said.

These are outdoor-grade units that are being positioned near parking lots so that people can reach the service from their cars, Purvis said. Range depends on environmental conditions of the site; in most cases, users will have to be in the vicinity of the building on which the equipment is installed to access the WiFi, he said.

Microsoft is donating the equipment through a five-year license agreement, which includes free tech support during that period, and RTO Wireless of Framingham, Mass., is donating the installation, Purvis said.

Up And Running I.T., a Bethel-based company, will assist with the local installations, according to the release.

The Cisco Meraki equipment is a "cloud managed wireless solution" that is managed through an online dashboard, said Justin McCoart, of Up and Running I.T., in the release.

At the outset of the COVID-19 emergency, the Department of Public Service published a public WiFi hot spot map on its website to assist Vermonters with internet access for information, remote work and learning. The map identifies places where people can access free public WiFi options from a car to maintain appropriate social distancing, according to the release.

A review of that data found that 38 small towns and gores across the state had no identified suitably socially distant and publicly available WiFi, according to the release.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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