NIU and city to create public wifi

Mayor Jerry Smith speaks at the Monday night city council meeting regarding bringing public wifi to DeKalb.

The city council approved a project that will end students’ and residents’ search for free wifi connections in the downtown area.

The project, approved Monday, will provide visitors access to free public wifi from Carroll Avenue to Fourth Street. The anticipated cost of the project is $85,000.

This price tag would include cable connection and 10 access points, as well as the labor costs

associated with implementation. The plan, which has been in the works for the past 10 years, will act as an intergovernmental agreement between the city and NIU. Mayor Jerry Smith said the council's approval has allowed the city and NIU to move swiftly with implementing the project.

“This is a first step [toward] what technology will do in our city, and I'm excited for our city and our townspeople,” Smith said.

Herb Kuryliw, NIU director of broadband development, said the service is not intended to be used for a long duration and will require users to reconnect if they’ve been on the network for too long. However, NIU students could expect the same connection as if they were still on campus.

The city will be responsible for mounting and repairing the hardware should something happen to it, and the university will operate and run the wifi network service.

There is no set date for when downtown visitors will be able to access the network, but installation of the infrastructure will begin once the university is able to finalize the procurement process for the project and reach a final design, Kuryliw said.

“We have a lot of stuff in place; we just have to get through the last final logistics,” Kuryliw said.

Alderpersons agreed to allocate a maximum of $30,000 in funding for the project, which would come from Fiscal Year 2017’s Tax Increment Financing. The remaining costs would be absorbed by the university, said Marc Thorson, DeKalb Information Technology director.

“We’re looking at this as a foundation piece to move forward,” Thorson said during the meeting.

The infrastructure needed to complete the project would also allow the city to implement additional items like surveillance cameras, Thorson said.

During the Committee of the Whole meeting, Kevin Niebergall, spokesperson for Digital Lobby -- a company that uses software to provide wifi and marketing to users -- spoke about connecting NIU and DeKalb to local businesses. He also spoke to his company's ability to collect data that would allow the city to identify the areas users frequent throughout the city.

Digital Lobby’s community wifi access involves using existing wifi access local businesses provide to their patrons which is then collected onto software that allows users to select which connection they want to use.

The approved project is a basic plan alderpersons hope will grow to eventually encompass Digital Lobby or a company that provides a similar service.

As it stands, the expected cost of $85,000 will provide the city with infrastructure needed to use Digital Lobby’s service, but officials do not plan to enter into an agreement with the company at this time.

The council passed a vote to continue talks with Digital Lobby but agreed to explore other options should one make itself available to the city.

“If there is another company out there that wants to match every single service that’s been reviewed with you tonight, at the same cost zero, then we would explore that,” DeKalb City Manager Anne Marie Gaura said. “That would be my recommendation to you.”

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