Danville could add public wireless internet at parks, downtown

Published 8:04 am Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Danville may soon join a growing list of cities offering public wireless internet.

The city expects to add Wi-Fi at Millennium Park as it completes the numerous energy efficiency upgrades planned for 2018. Having internet access at the park is necessary so that staff can use the new systems being installed, but it also means Danville can make Millennium a hotspot, City Engineer Earl Coffey said.

“That’s our goal. We do think we can get there,” Coffey said during last week’s city commission retreat meeting. “We think we can get there economically as part of our project. So there’s a side benefit there that we’re realizing. And once you do that, that opens up your opportunity to do it in Jackson Park, for example, and then follow it up with Main Street.”

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City Manager Ron Scott said after Wi-Fi becomes available in Millennium it can “easily” be expanded to Jackson Park, which is geographically speaking very close to Millennium. Then a second Wi-Fi system could be added in the down area, stretching along Main Street — provided the city can work out issues of cost and protecting other city networks that need to be secure, he said.

“That’s probably going to be able to be done at a reasonable cost, without a putting a number on there,” Scott said. “… We’re not thinking of charging at the present time. It may morph into that at some point.”

City Commissioner Denise Terry said having free public Wi-Fi will help attract and “entice our younger generations and our workforce.”

“I just think that’s an important amenity that cities are starting to offer and that we need to get in on,” she said. “… Even if it’s just a four-block area, that’s essentially our downtown. Then we can say, ‘free public Wi-Fi downtown.'”

Beyond free Wi-Fi, city officials discussed a far bigger pipe dream at their retreat meeting: creating a fiber-optic network in Danville that would offer local residents blazing “Google speed” on the internet.

Kentucky’s biggest cities, Lexington and Louisville, have put substantial efforts into improving their internet speeds and connectivity, Scott said.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Danville City Manager Ron Scott participates in last week’s city commission retreat meeting.

“If Danville is interested in having some discussion of that, we could get probably access to their (requests for qualifications) that they developed, send it out and see if any private companies are interested in pursuing Danville as a market,” Scott said. “… I don’t think we have at this point the revenue flexibility to fund a great study effort, but that’s one thing we could at least put our in the water on and see what the response might be.”

Mayor Mike Perros said other cities such as Glasgow and Frankfort have their own electric utilities, which set them up nicely with the infrastructure to create a new fiber network. 

“We don’t have that infrastructure,” he said. But “We’ve got to cross this bridge and the sooner we do it, the more competitive we’re going to be. It’s a rather large gorilla, but we’ve got to start getting our arms around it and trying to wrestle it to the ground.

“… In our strategic development plan, we said that we want to start attracting young talent, we want to start attracting technology talent,” Perros said. “I don’t see how in the world we’re ever going to do that unless we provide this connectivity.”

City Engineer Coffey said it’s possible to lay fiber optic cables within the city’s sewer system, but it’s unclear if the state Division of Water would allow such a project.

Scott said what the state will allow in terms of piggybacking a fiber network on a water system is “yet to be known.”

“But the technology is proven, it’s patented,” he said. “And that company would conceivably partner with the city to do that, and we might get some revenue if that were to be a possibility.”

Perros said he believes Danville should have control of a fiber network the same way it has control over other utilities, such as water.

“We enjoy having our own water treatment facility. We enjoy being able to market that and benefit from a revenue standpoint,” he said. “… In a perfect world, I’d like to see us duplicate that with connectivity, as opposed to us potentially having to connect onto someone else. How many times have you struggled with your cable? You can either be in charge of it, or somebody else is going to be in charge of it. I’m glad we’re in charge of our water; I’d like us to be in charge of our connectivity.”

Perros said he thinks Danville needs to make the possibility of fiber internet a “priority study in 2018.”

Scott said ideas on the issue are so preliminary that he doesn’t know whether the city could use its own staff to do an analysis or if it would make sense to hire an outside consultant.

Russellville is the only community in Kentucky currently with “Google speed,” Scott said.

“They spent over $10 million adding onto their network in that small community to have Google speed to neighborhoods,” he said.

“I see no reason why we shouldn’t consider going down the same path,” Perros said. “… If we can spend $50,000 for a consultant on our parks system — this takes far greater importance, in my opinion, for the longevity and future of this community.”