Marion links with Eagle to provide free Wi-Fi

Through a partnership with Eagle Communications, the Marion City Council unanimously approved bringing Wi-Fi free public access to the downtown business district and Central Park at its Feb. 2 meeting.

Taking direction from the council about eight weeks ago, City Administrator Roger Holter said he researched the request and came up with possibilities as to how free Wi-Fi could exist.

?I know there is no other community able to negotiate a one time fee and free service,? he said about the contract with Eagle Communications.

In reviewing how the idea came to fruition, Holter said the visioning process identified that citizens had a desire to have Wi-Fi hot spots available downtown and at the park.

?In the last session of the Kansas Legislature,? he said, ?a statute passed prohibiting the direct operations of an internet service or telecommunications by municipalities in our state.?

Given the change in that statute, Holter explained that the city could not operate a telecommunications company under its utility configuration.

?With that in mind,? he said, ?we met with Eagle Communications and they presented a proposal for joint partnership.?

The partnership would be between the city of Marion?s economic development department and Eagle?s economic development division.

In the partnership, the city would purchase six antennaes and provide assistance in labor to install the antennaes and other equipment at a cost of $8,000.

According to a diagram Holter presented, the transponders are currently available, but with no antennaes on it.

?One is located on Elm Street and one at the base of the water tower,? he said, ?which would be moving to the parking area in Central Park.

?When completed, the Wi-Fi public access would be one block each side of Main Street, Santa Fe over to the Marion County Courthouse from Walnut and all of Central Park.?

As part of the agreement, Eagle Communications would have the rights to market this to other communities, but with no recurring expense to the city or customers using the technology in that area.

A second advantage

From an economic development standpoint, Holter explained the city will not only have a revitalization zone set up on Main Street, but it will be a competitive advantage to draw new businesses into the area that could use the broadband.

?Depending on the construction of a building,? he said, ?business owners may have to use an amplifier inside their building to strengthen the signal, but another advantage would be to attract businesses to the targeted area.?

Similar to hotels and motels offering free Wi-Fi, Holter said, within the hot spot area it would state: Brought to you by Eagle Communications and Marion City Economic Development.

?Once someone accepts the terms and clicks on it, then it will roll in,? he said.

In addition, it will be set up so that local businesses within marion would have the ability to drop a Google advertisement in on the system.

Holter said: ?So if somebody on Main Street does Google searches for ?groceries,? it would pop in their business right there?marketing is tied to it.?

Although he admitted there is nothing free in life, the opportunity for Marion?s hometown businesses to market themselves is ?just like the big guys do.?

If somebody needed a two-by-four using Google search, he said, Lowe?s or Home Depot might pop up, but based on the geographic location here, it would pop up whatever merchants signed up to have the Google ad.

It would mean local businesses would have first choice and first identification on the map search where to find their product.

If Carlson?s Grocery, Ace Hardware, Pizza Hut or any other local business wanted to be dropped in, there would be a charge by Eagle for them to do so, but anyone with a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop computer, tablet or smartphone could connect in that free access zone.

Funding

Based on the good relationship between the city of Marion and Eagle Communications, Holter said, the only cost to the city would be a one time fee.

?We would fund the $8,000 from our electric department,? he said. ?It would include buying poles, some wires and antennaes.

?We would not retain ownership, but any repairs in the future would not be the city?s cost. (Eagle) would maintain all the points of access once the city gets them installed?their expense, not our expense.?

Holter noted that the $8,000 cost to the city would still be less than the actual purchase price for antennaes, modems, and fiber optic wire to install it.

?Eagle is absorbing about $1,500 of that portion,? he said.

Other than the two entities working together in the installation phase, once the Wi-Fi is installed and activated, Eagle takes ownership and is committed to providing the service, he said.

In addition to approving the free Wi-Fi public access, Mayor Todd Heitschmidt recommended appointing Randy Collett to serve the remaining three-years of Vern Bowers? term on the Marion City Library board.

The council unanimously approved.