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News Story
Updated: 07/23/2014 08:00:04AM

WiFi in the park

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By JEFF ROSLOW

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Through the effort of a private company in Winter Haven, there now is Internet service in Central Park in that town that not only will help get visitors there, but also help economically, as there is more use of credit card use at public events.

This has all been brought about through a partnership between Alternative Choice Wireless and the city to install high-powered wireless antennas on rooftops on both sides of Central Park.

“This is a great service for both residents and visitors,” said Hiep Nguyen, the chief information officer at the city of Winter Haven. WiFi requires radio frequencies to provide Internet connection instead of using cables. Areas to be covered by this free WiFi are the Central Park corridor, Ave. A SW north to Ave. B NW, and 5th Street SW to 4th Street NW.

“The only spot I know of that offered free WiFi to their customers is in the library in the coffee shop. If you go across the street to the park area there was no coverage,” said Steve Sowards of Alternative Choice Wireless.

He added in public events in the park it was difficult for vendors to take credit card payments. This makes it easier.

“If you have a normal phone (not a smartphone) and no data plan you have to connect to a WiFi to use it.”

He added: “This service will provide a free, reliable Internet connection for visitors, shoppers, and our local business community,” said Sowards.

He expects it to add new life to downtown and add events to Central Park.

ACW is a private company that provides high-speed wireless Internet service and hosting solutions for commercial, government and educational organizations. It has high-speed broadband antennas broadcast wireless Internet service at rates of 1 Mpbs to 1.4 gigabits across a large geographic area, including remote areas not serviced by cable or telephone Internet service providers.

The company has worked with the city of Winter Haven in the past and does a lot of broadband with it.

“We have all the complexes and fire stations and the Winter Haven airport,” Sowards said.

Bok Tower considering it

The work of Alternative Choice Wireless is growing. They have been looking into Lakeland to provide service and have been talking to Bok Tower Gardens about providing Internet service to the outdoor area there. The company already has work in Lake Wales as it has a provided the Lake Wales Charter Schools with service that is “up and running.”

In Bok Towers it is not up and running, but Sowards said there is no Internet service in the outdoor area whatsoever and use of it could be helpful.

“They have Oktoberfest or anything they do, they have 9,000 people and nothing works,” Sowards said of online use.

Brian Ososky, the director of marketing and public relations, said having that use is still in the testing phases. It’s being done carefully and in steps. He said also high on the list of whether this makes sense is the state of the gardens.

“This place is an escape from everyday,” he said. “People enjoy the tranquility and peace and quiet. That mission should not change.”

He said there should not be Internet towers on the Bok tower. The land and surroundings remaining as they are is extremely important.

However, he added, “Technology is happening all around us. We want to use that for our advantage for our guests.”

The advantage to their guests, Ososky explained, is if people are touring the site and see something in the gardens they cannot look it up on their cellphone for example.

“And that’s also not to mention the help in the speed of operations for our staff. That would make us more efficient,” he said.

Bok Tower has been thinking about this for quite some time but it hasn’t been cost effect for it. That cost effectiveness can come from this private company, Sowards said, using the city of Winter Haven as an example.

Using Internet service at the city there for a couple of years with a national service provider he said it was getting 1.5 megabites of service and paying $600 per location per month.

“We were able to give them six times the bandwidth for $525. We improved their situation and lowered the cost.”

WiFi in Bartow?

Providing increased use of the Internet is something the city of Bartow has been looking to do for the past year. With an OK by city commissioners to look into increased service, City Manager George Long said the downtown area could be provided with WiFi by the end of this year. The city itself has provided Internet service to businesses in the industrial park at the Bartow Municipal Airport, something it improved upon last year. After that, there has been discussion on whether it can help provide more speed to the city and provide more and faster service.

“We’re doing the same thing,” Long said. “By the end of this year our downtown should be WiFi capable through Fort Blount Park.”

He said the city has a fiber system and that is needed as the city looks into a triple play combination that would provide Internet service, phone service and television service. Before they jump into that, though, they want to see if it is advantageous for not only the people it serves but also to the city itself.

“We want to see if it’s feasible from a business standpoint,” Long said. He said he told the commissioners the setup has to be 100 percent for it work properly on both ends.

“There could be some benefit but if this is not done properly it could be a nightmare,” Long said.

He said if the city moves to the triple play it could increase the speed of the Internet around the city. That has been a long-time complaint of customers who live in the city. But, he said, competing with private companies can be tricky for a public agency and that is why it has to be 100 percent. Whether or not that happens is just guesswork now.

“We have to look at the dollars and cents to see if this is viable,” he said. “This only came about because of the complaints in Bartow. Over the next two or three to five years, the customer base may shift.”


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