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Going high tech

Carrollton gets connected
with new WiFi Internet service

System may attract new businesses, officials say

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

CARROLLTON, Ky. (April 2008) – Twenty-one blocks in the Renaissance District of downtown Carrollton have now gone wireless, thanks in part to the efforts of the Carrollton Main Street Program. This electronic system is intended to improve the inoperability of wireless local area network products.
This is a free wireless Internet service to anyone within these 21 blocks, said Sam Burgess, director of the Carrollton Main Street Program. The area includes the Kentucky River to Seventh Street, and the Ohio River to Sycamore Street.
“The first phase was installed in April 2007 to a limited area around the courthouse,” said Burgess. The second phase was completed in late October.
The WiFi system is like a mesh network, said Burgess. The main radio repeater was installed atop the Old Stone Jail, where the Main Street Program offices are located, to ensure a strong signal. The jail is located in the courthouse square. A series of repeaters will broadcast downtown at interconnected access points, or hotspots.
Personal computers can network to each other and connect to the Internet through this system. Mobile computers can connect to the Internet from any WiFi hotspot.
Liberty Communications, based in nearby Sparta, Ky., installed the system. Burgess first saw this wireless Internet project two years ago at a national Main Street Program meeting in New Orleans.
“We’re using the same equipment as the city of San Francisco uses,” Burgess said.
The WiFi system provides a competitive advantage to the city of Carrollton by offering an additional incentive for new businesses to locate in the downtown area, Burgess said. It allows businesses to save money by not having to subscribe to an Internet service.
It’s also helpful for businesses that conduct a lot of E-commerce. It affords a way for businesses to expand their customer base by electronic merchandising, he said.
“Residents in the area have access as well,” said Jeff Moore, president of the Carrollton Main Street Program. A total of 17 repeater units were set up and a few more will be added, Moore said. If one goes down, the system will find its way around this to communicate, he said.
WiFi provides a good backup system for those businesses that must keep an Internet service. Moore, who is publisher of the Carrollton News Democrat weekly newspaper, has experienced this firsthand. When his system went down at the newspaper office, he was able to retrieve emails and advertising information that otherwise would have been lost.
“We’re still seeing how it works,” said Moore. Expansion depends upon the city’s willingness to do so and the success of the system. So far, Moore said the system has gotten good responses from businesses and residents.
Jo Ellen Tumbrink, who owns the downtown Main Street business, Point House, said, “I use it all of the time. I can remain online all day long now” thanks to this system.
“It’s so much better than dial-up,” said Tumbrink. She touted its advantages as being fast and not tying up the phone line.
Tumbrink sells fine china and carries bridal registry items. Most of her business is conducted through the Internet. She once had a couple from Canada stop in to pick up their gift item they had ordered online while in route to a wedding in Atlanta.
As a business owner, Tumbrink said she thinks that “having an online presence will bring customers to town. It will be a big asset to us.”
The only possible drawback, according to Burgess, is that the system will not service area banks. Such businesses use the Internet heavily and have to keep an existing Internet service.
Money will be needed if more repeaters are to be installed to strengthen the existing system. The Carrollton Main Street Program invested the first $1,000 out of its budget, said Burgess.
The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, Carrollton-Carroll County Tourism and the Community Advisory Panel donated money for the initial start-up equipment.

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