Urbana to install its 1st-ever free public outdoor Wi-Fi service

By Walbert Castillo

Downtown Urbana will begin installing its first-ever free outdoor public access Wi-Fi service in February 2015.

The Urbana City Council unanimously approved a proposal from Gargoyle Technologies Inc., or Volo Broadband, on Oct. 13 to install Wi-Fi in and around the parking garage located at 111 W. Main St. in Urbana. Pedestrians passing by the block of Main and Broadway streets will be able to access the garage’s Wi-Fi connection.

“This parking deck is not only the core of downtown Urbana, but it’s also a pedestrian zone,” said Peter Folk, CEO of Volo Broadband. “Because of that, we thought it would be the one area that would receive the most attention.”

Alderman Diane Marlin, Ward 7, said the Wi-Fi installation is significant because of its central downtown location.

“Since major bus stops are around this area and the parking garage is used up frequently, it’s very convenient for others to access the Wi-Fi connection,” Marlin said.

She added that because there are numerous festivals that take place in the area, people sitting on curbs and walking near the parking garage will be able to access Wi-Fi easily. 

Alderman Bill Brown, Ward 4, said the installment is a great start to making Wi-Fi more ubiquitous in the downtown area.

Folk said the cost to have that spot for Wi-Fi usage is roughly $10 per year and a total of eight access points will be installed in the parking deck. He said the price is based on how much space Volo Broadband takes up.

Because thousands of people attend events in downtown Urbana, Folk said that if the demand is high, Volo may need to make changes over time to increase the capacity of users able to access the Wi-Fi connection.

Folk said the idea was first proposed seven or eight years ago when he was working with Urbana to roll out fiber optic infrastructure to all of the schools and buildings in Urbana. 

However, when the citywide fiber project finished, Folk said there were other things that took the forefront in network development.

“We wanted to install Wi-Fi but it wasn’t a high priority for the city of Urbana so without their lead, we weren’t able to move forward with it,” Folk said.

Earlier this year, Folk said that because Volo Broadband was already in the process of building fiber optic infrastructures, he did not want to make the mistake of not installing Wi-Fi a second time.

“This time around, the Urbana City Staff was very accommodating,” Folk said. “This new Wi-Fi installment is no longer a joint project with Urbana and Volo, it’s a project run only with Volo with Urbana providing us the right to provide this service.”

Marlin said she hopes to see more Volo Broadband projects like this one at more places across downtown Urbana.

Brown agreed with Marlin and said that it would great to have Wi-Fi access near Boneyard Creek.

“Since Boneyard Creek runs all the way through Champaign and some of the engineering buildings, I think it would be a great location for all to have public Wi-Fi,” he said.

The city council will finalize discussion on the Wi-Fi project at its meeting Monday night.

“Last Monday, the Urbana City Council board suggested that the Wi-Fi would have no cost, so that is why we added the word ‘free’ in front of wireless internet facility, ” Brown said. “Although free Wi-Fi was not specified in the contract but stated in the previous memo, we wanted to make it more clear.”

Walbert can be reached at [email protected]