The Stevenson Wi-Fi Project was created to provide free, public access wireless Internet connectivity to visitors as a way of promoting tourism and increasing overnight stays in the community. The project was built and is maintained with money from the City of Stevenson Tourism Promotion Fund.
Conceived in April 2003, funding was requested from and approved by the Stevenson City Council in July. The first equipment was installed in September and the basic network was operational by the end of October 2003. The Stevenson Wi-Fi Project provides this tourism promotion service under contract with the city. We have one paid, part time tech person and a volunteer project coordinator.
The entire downtown Stevenson commercial core is covered (approximately 8x20 blocks) as well as the Skamania County Fair Grounds and recreation area adjoining the downtown. Free Wi-Fi is also available at the Stevenson Community Library.
We use a system of overlapping "nodes" that intelligently route Internet traffic using the 802.11b protocol. These nodes are located throughout the downtown Stevenson area with two of the central nodes acting as gateways for connection to the Internet. The mesh management software we use is Qcode, developed by Qorvus Systems (www.qorvus.net) located in Vancouver, Washington. We currently have 11 nodes operating. Coverage varies depending on distance and terrain. Most of our nodes are at least 300 yards apart. Most are positioned on the top of buildings for best line of sight. Each node requires a mesh box (about the size of a home DVD player), small power supply plugged into AC power, antenna and connecting cable. We purchase our bandwidth from a local Internet Service Provider. During a recent main street renovation, the City of Stevenson installed fiber optic conduit through out our downtown core. The Stevenson Wi-Fi Project paid to have lit fiber pulled to our gateway in the center of town. We also operate a second gateway located in the Port of Skamania County building along our waterfront. We currently purchase one megabit with the option of increasing that amount as use builds.
The network was built for use by tourists and other visitors to Stevenson. Locals also use it from time to time while in our parks and restaurants. We have the ability to monitor use to determine if the network is being abused and can block specific computers should that become necessary.
A Wi-Fi enabled computer is a prerequisite. Once Wi-Fi enabled, connecting is quite simple. Most users will simply click on their Internet browser where they are taken to a login screen. By clicking on "Guest Login" the user is taken to a "Welcome to Stevenson" page, which has links to local lodging and dining establishments. From that page, one is free to roam the Internet at will.
The MeshAP software allows different classes of users different amounts of bandwidth. Our "Guest" users are supplied with approximately two times the bandwidth of a good dial-up connection. Our administrators and our webcam have access to full bandwidth that can vary depending on how many people are on the network at one time.
We have our system configured so that "Guest" users can be on the network for up to one hour. The internal workings of the MeshAP software are extremely secure. Data that is sent and retrieved over the network has no built in security. We feel that is the responsibility of each individual user.
The city of Stevenson provides this service as a promotional tool. By routing network users directly to our web pages first, we have the opportunity to expose the user to all the amenities and services the city offers. By developing this content and tracking the traffic to these web sites, we will be in a better position to assess the benefit of the Wi-Fi Project. Additionally, each mesh node could have its own entry portal that specifically advertises the businesses within that node's coverage area. The ability to target content to very specific geographic areas could be used to sell advertising that would offset some of the operational expenses. The amount of local and regional press we have received so far has been incredible. It is a compelling story. A small municipality of 1300 people in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge having the foresight and willingness to spend municipal funds on cutting edge technology infrastructure necessary to attract increasingly tech savvy visitors. This infrastructure also demonstrates to potential employers this is a community that understands what businesses in the 21st century need to remain competitive. In the last century, towns prospered where there was easy access to transportation. In this century, access to information will be the key for economic development.