[Hidden-tech] Ashfield man pitches high-speed Wi-Fi plan

Rich Roth webmaster at hidden-tech.net
Wed Mar 26 20:53:04 EDT 2014

 From Recorder - Mar 13, 2014

*Ashfield man pitches high-speed Wi-Fi plan*


ASHFIELD --- Christopher Gray wasn't in Ashfield when a Vermontbased 
wireless Internet service provider came to town, proposing to set up 
high-speed wireless Internet service for residents by December 2010. 
Those plans never materialized, but now that the "middle mile" 
installation of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute's 123 Network has 
been completed, Gray is hoping to set up service in Ashfield, and 
eventually in other hilltowns where schools, libraries and town halls 
have a fiber-optic connection.

Doing business as HilltownNetworks, Gray hopes to provide high-speed 
wireless Internet to residents, using mounted panel antennas on the Town 
Hall steeple from the fiber-optic connection. He isoffering the Town 
Hall free Internet service in exchange for the right to place antenna 
panels on the steeple.

The first phase, he said, would be to make the service available to most 
households within the town center.

The second phase would be to set up repeaters to transmit the signal to 
other areas of town.

A public meeting is planned at Town Hall on March 20, beginning at 7 
p.m., for Gray to explain his proposal to the public, to get residents' 
input and gauge their interest. He has already heard a concern about how 
the antenna would look on the historic Town Hall steeple, and is 
planningto bring some visuals to the meeting.

Gray is a mechanical engineer who moved to his family's farm and 
farmhouse in 2010 --- and found the satellite- based Internet service 
there to be "terrible," he said. "I recognized there's a need for 
high-speed Internet --- and we hope WiredWest will fill that need --- 
but it may take some time."

Until the WiredWest multitown initiative can build a fiber optic 
infrastructure for "last mile" rural hilltowns, Gray is proposing a 
Wireless Internet Service Provider, which is known as WISP.

"We're going to be taking Internet surveys on our website, which would 
determine where the repeaters would go," he said. "That's the overview. 
The intention is not just to do it in Ashfield, but in other towns 
currently connected" to the state-provided fiber cables that have 
reached many townownedbuildings.That website is already set up with a 
survey questionnaire, at: www.hilltownnetworks. com Gray said he has 
been talking with town officials in the hilltowns surrounding Ashfield, 
who also seem interested in his plan.

In November, Gray first spoke to the town Selectboard about his plan. 
And since then, his proposal has been reviewed by, and recommended by, 
the Historic Commission, the Town Hall Building Committee and the 
Technology Committee.

The old Great Auk Wireless Inc. plan of 2010 had called for an 80-foot 
monopole telecommunications tower with a dish-shaped antenna on top that 
would send and receive signals from another tower.

Gray's proposal calls for panel antennas, which are enclosed antennas in 
rectangular containers. Gray says the panel antennas he's considering 
would be either 28 inches tall and six inches wide; or 4 feet 3 inches 
tall and 1 foot wide. Unlike other types of antennas, the panel antennas 
can be aligned vertically.

His proposal says that the equipment would be installed"as deemed 
visually appropriate" by the Town Hall Building Committee and Historical 
Commission. Hilltown Networks would also carry general liability insurance.

"Ideally, they would not be very visible at all," Gray said of the 
antennas. "They could be externally mounted in a non-obvious way. In the 
event they're really not acceptable visually, we'll work in a way to 
mount them that doesn't affect service too much.

"I really want what's best for the people," he said. "If they say, 'We 
don't want it. We don't want to look at this panel antenna,' then we 
won't do it. If the town says 'No thank you,' that's OK."

"I recognize the problem (of poor Internet service), and I see a 
solution, if that is in the best interest of the town," he said. "If it 
can't be done in an aesthetically pleasing way, that's something that I 
wantto know."

Gray said it's also OK with him if, when a better technology comes 
along, people switch to a direct fiber-optic connection.

"My goal is to provide a system that is really transparent," said Gray. 
"You want a system to be a good as possible. The whole model isn't 
worked out yet. I don't want to promise too much, until I experience 
what's possible. These people are my neighbors, and I want to help them."

Gray said service would start out at about $50 per month. "Once we get a 
decent amount of subscribers, and make sure everything is (working), we 
intend to open it up to higher and lower(priced)options."

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:dbroncaccio at recorder.com 
<mailto:dbroncaccio at recorder.com>or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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