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Free internet coming downtown

February 09, 2011 - Laptop users and techno-geeks rejoice for free wireless internet service is coming to downtown Oxford this fall.

In his State of the County address last week, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced that three downtowns Oxford, Clarkston and Holly would be the very first beneficiaries of free Wi-Fi services as part of the rebooted Wireless Oakland initiative.

"We were looking for the downtown areas where we thought we would get the best usage of the system," said Deputy County Executive Phil Bertolini.

"I think it's a good idea," said Kevin Stephison, chairman of the Oxford Downtown Development Authority. "I think being on the kickoff list gives us some exposure as an up-and-coming community and might bring us to the attention of some businesses that may be looking (to open or relocate)."

Air Advantage, a Frankenmuth-based company that provides high speed, wireless internet service to Michigan's thumb area, is planning to provide competitively-priced broadband services to the northern and western sectors of Oakland County.

As part of the Wireless Oakland initiative, Air Advantage will have access to the county's strategically placed radio towers in order to expand its customer base.

In exchange for this access, the company will offer free Wi-Fi services to some downtown areas.

"As long as they want to use our towers, we're going to have some sort of value back for that," explained Bertolini, who noted a 10-year contract is expected to go before the county Board of Commissioners for a vote Feb. 9.

One of the county-owned towers on which Air Advantage will be placing its network equipment is located in neighboring Addison Township.

Downtown Oxford's geographic proximity made it an ideal recipient for free wireless services.

"We thought the Village of Oxford would be a good place to put up the Wi-Fi in regard to that tower," Bertolini said.

Air Advantage's equipment should be placed on the Addison tower this summer.

"We're anticipating the three villages that we've selected will be lit (with free W-Fi) by fall," Bertolini said. "That's the plan."

The equipment that will provide downtown Oxford with the free Wi-Fi will be located somewhere in the village.

"We haven't determined (where) yet," Bertolini explained. "We'll be working with the village folks to find a suitable location that will service the downtown the best."

Depending on where this equipment is placed, the area receiving free Wi-Fi service could include more than just the downtown.

The radius of coverage would range from a quarter-mile to a half-mile from the device, according to Bertolini.

"It could be a one-mile-by-one-mile circle," he said. "It will cover more than just the actual place where it's sitting It depends on what's in the way and interference and so on. They'll come in with engineers and they'll find the right spot to put it."

Giving merchants the ability to offer free Wi-Fi at their establishments is a great way to attract customers and visitors to the downtown area, in Stephison's opinion.

"There are times when being able to plop my laptop someplace and do some work outside of the office is kind of nice," he said.

When asked if he thinks the availability of free Wi-Fi services will lead to the opening of another coffee shop in downtown Oxford, Stephison replied, "God, I hope so. From your lips to God's ears."

Downtown's only coffee shop, Starbucks, closed in August 2010 after 10 years.

"I love brewing my own at home, but sometimes it's kind of nice to go somewhere else," Stephison said. "I've had more questions about the coffee shop since Starbucks left than probably anything else."

Air Advantage's pending deal with the county isn't just good news for Oxford Village.

The internet provider's use of Addison's radio tower will allow Oxford Township residents north of the village and all of Addison Township access to broadband services for a competitive fee.

That's especially good news for Addison, which is predominantly rural and currently has "little or no broadband there," according to Bertolini.

"Addison's completely covered (under Air Advantage)," he said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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