WiFi- access through downtown Reno? It’s complicated | nnbusinessview.com

WiFi- access through downtown Reno? It’s complicated

Anne Knowles
aknowles@nnbw.biz

Efforts to equip downtown Reno for wireless access to the Internet just got a lot more complicated.

For the last year and half, Darik Volpa, founder and chief executive officer of Understand.com in Reno, has been working to design a WiFi system for downtown and raise the money needed to build it as part of an ongoing effort to revitalize downtown.

“I was asked to chair the economic development portion of the Reno 2020 project,” says Volpa, a study to assess the city’s future conducted by the Center for Regional Studies in College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno. “I put together a group of entrepreneurs and we came up with a number of ideas to help change the perception of Reno downtown as a dying casino town and one idea was to have WiFi.”

So Volpa went to work, and so far he’s been largely successful. He has spoken to areas businesses and gotten guarantees of donations totaling $20,000 to purchase the 20 routers needed to build the infrastructure for the project’s first phase along the Truckee River from Wingfield Park to the National Automobile Museum. The second phase would cover the area west of Wingfield Park to Idlewild Park.

And although the City of Reno is unable to provide any financial assistance, the city has been supportive, says Volpa.

“I believe this will be a great private enterprise,” he says.

But now the project has run into a major hurdle. The initial plan called for placing the shoebox-sized routers on lampposts, but the streetlights are wired by the city to provide power only at night and it would be cost prohibitive to change that, says Volpa.

Volpa looked into adding solar panels to provide electricity during the day, but that, too, is expensive and unworkable. The $1,000 panels needed would at least double the cost of the installation and likely be stolen or vandalized, says Volpa.

“So now rather than going to the city with one agreement, we have to go to businesses or residences along the river because we need easements and to be allowed to tap into their power,” says Volpa. “And there will be some gaps (in coverage). It’s a significant setback.”

The power usage of the routers is negligible — costing about $10 a year, says Volpa — and the boxes are unobtrusive, so he is hoping businesses and residences would be receptive to allowing them to be installed. But that adds cost to the project for such items agreements, which need to be drafted by an attorney. And it adds significant legwork to what has been a one-man crusade.

“It requires typical problem solving and is not unusual for a project like this,” says Dick Bartholet, director of research with the Nevada Small Business Development Center, who is now talking with Volpa about ways to move the project forward. “But there’s no profit motive for anyone like there is in business. This is community service.”

Bartholet says a representative from NV Energy recently got in touch with them about the project, so there is a possibility of additional corporate interest in seeing WiFi available in some area of downtown.

“It would still be ideal for Reno,” says Bartholet.


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