The largest city in western Massachusetts has announced plans to join a growing number of municipalities across the country that offer free public Wi-Fi.
Starting sometime this spring, people will be able to connect to a free public Wi-Fi network with their smartphone, tablet, or laptop anywhere in roughly a seven-block area of downtown Springfield, with plans for later expansion of the coverage area throughout more of the city including parks and other public places.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city will use the availability of free public Wi-Fi in its marketing to attract visitors and new businesses.
" It is a good message about the city of Springfield that we are open for business and we are being innovative and futuristic," said Sarno. " It is another good selling point."
The plans for the public Wi-Fi were announced in a vacant downtown building that with the help of a $2 million grant from the state is being turned into the Springfield Innovation Center to serve as an incubator for startup companies and a hangout for entrepreneurs.
Delcie Bean, the founder and CEO of Paragus Strategic IT and one of the planners for the innovation center, praised the announcement that public WiFi will be coming to downtown Springfield.
" Wi-Fi today is like yesterday's electricity. It is essential to almost everything we do," said Bean. " It opens up the possibilities for other things to happen because we will have this fundamental base."
In addition to promoting a startup innovation economy, Springfield is also preparing for a large influx of visitors when the Union Station transportation center opens at the end of this year, followed two years later by the MGM casino. Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said it would “embarrassing” if Springfield did not offer free public Wi-Fi.
Kennedy said the city will invest up to $100,000 initially in the project.
" It is natural now for the city to do its part to keep going with the innovation concept in the downtown," said Kennedy.
Andrew Doty, the city’s Chief Information Officer, will oversee the development of the public Wi-Fi network.
" The goal is to take a strategic approach to offer it in locations where people congregate. There may be some spotty areas at first, but all in all it will allow people to surf on a very high speed internet for free," he said.
The city, which has gigabit internet in its municipal buildings, will be the service provider for the public Wi-Fi users. Doty said there are no plans to impose time limits on using the network.
" They can surf to their hearts content," said Doty.
Doty said Springfield is “bandwith-rich” because a large amount of fiber optic cable already exists in Springfield. Much of that fiber is “dark” or unused and is available to be connected to spaces in the innovation center.
The city became a hub for broadband internet providers as a result of government-funded projects during the last decade to bring high speed internet to rural areas of the state.