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September 26, 2012 at 4:33 PM

Free city Wi-Fi arrives — in Port Angeles

Seattle could learn a thing or two from Port Angeles.

On Oct. 8, Port Angeles will launch a citywide wireless network providing broadband to anyone with a Wi-Fi device.

Access to “Metro-Net” will be free for up to an hour a day. Daily, weekly and monthly plans are available for $6 to $38.

As an introductory special, the service will be entirely free in October.

The city will use the Wi-Fi for things such as police and building inspector laptops, and wireless devices that monitor and manage utilities. A demonstration of police use of the service is planned for a launch event on Oct. 8.

Metro-Net includes about 200 access points that are connected to an existing fiber-optic network in the city.

A private Internet provider will handle consumer and business access to the network.

The concept may sound familiar to people in Seattle, where city leaders spent nearly a decade studying and discussing a municipal broadband system that would tap into the city’s fiber-optic network. Seattle also tested free Wi-Fi networks in the University District and Columbia City.

But the current administration ended the Wi-Fi service in April and abandoned plans for a citywide broadband network. It opted instead to part out its excess fiber network capacity.

Meanwhile, Port Angeles went from seeking business proposals to beta testing in about a year. The Wi-Fi network has been running in limited capacity since Sept. 1 and will be fully built out next year, according to Charles Beaudette, general manager of OlyPen, a Sequim-based Internet provider selling access to the network.

Port Angeles is funding the project largely with a $2.6 million federal grant.

Of course, Port Angeles is much smaller than Seattle. It has about 19,000 residents in 10 square miles, while Seattle has about 616,000 on 88.5 square miles of land. Seattle originally envisioned an ultrafast network with fiber to every home, vs. the slower and cheaper Wi-Fi approach. Also, the Port Angeles partnership is less complicated because the underlying fiber is privately owned, by Capacity Provisioning.

Plus, there’s “a much smaller bureaucracy to deal with,” Beaudette said.

Capacity Provisioning designed and built the network and OlyPen is selling subscriptions and sharing revenue with the city.

Starting on Nov. 1, OlyPen will charge $5.95 per day for unlimited access to the network. Weekly access is $15.95 and monthly is $34.95. It’s also offering “fixed point” service to homes or businesses for $17.95 to $37.95 per month, with prices varying by speed. Fixed-point download rates will range from 1.5 megabits per second to 6 megabits per second.

There are no ads on the free, hour-per-day offering. OlyPen is considering an ad-supported approach, but that won’t happen during its current, two-year franchise agreement, Beaudette said.

It’s unlikely that the service will be extended much beyond Port Angeles into unincorporated area, which is mostly sparsely populated forests and mountains. Beaudette said it can be difficult to reach some areas of the county with satellite service, much less Wi-Fi.



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