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Be patient: Free downtown Wi-Fi coming

September 07, 2011 - Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will downtown Oxford's free wireless internet service.

But have no fear, folks are diligently working to get it operational.

"We're hoping that it all happens this fall," said Dave Simmet, vice president of operations for Air Advantage, a company based in Frankenmuth. "We've defined fall as being all the way up into the official winter season."

Last week, local government officials and representatives from Air Advantage were out and about in downtown Oxford, Clarkston and Holly scouting for suitable locations to place wireless network access points (or hotspots).

"We're trying to give people that visit those downtown areas an ability to connect to the internet without having to pay for it," Simmet said. "More and more people have smartphones that have Wi-Fi capability. The tablets now all have Wi-Fi capability. If I'm in the downtown area and I need to look something up, I can do it fairly easily if I know there's a Wi-Fi hotspot there."

Air Advantage, which already provides high-speed, wireless internet service to Michigan's thumb area, is in the process of expanding its competitively-priced broadband services to northern and western Oakland County.

The company's been given access to strategically-placed, county-owned radio towers in order to expand its customer base. In exchange for this access, the company will offer free Wi-Fi services to downtowns in places like Oxford, Clarkston and Holly.

"As long as we have equipment on the county-owned towers, we will have a free Wi-Fi hotspot in those three areas," Simmet noted.

Two things must take place in order for downtown Oxford to get its free wireless service.

The first is Air Advantage must get its equipment placed on a tower located approximately 3 miles north of the village. This tower is owned by private company based in Boston, Massachusetts called American Tower, not the county.

"We've got an application in with American Tower," Simmet said. "We're going through the process with them to get on that tower."

"We don't know when we're going to get the notice from American Tower to proceed," he added. "We will need to get that tower equipped with our equipment before we can service the downtown area."

The second thing is Air Advantage must find a good location to place its Wi-Fi access point, a device that measures 18 inches in length and about 14 inches in width.

"It's shaped like a can," he said.

Right now, Simmet indicated it appears the best candidate is the Northeast Oakland Historical Museum, located at the northwest corner of Washington (M-24) and Burdick streets.

"We asked (the village) where would they like to have it and (village manager Joe Young) mentioned they thought the four corners would be the best place to put it," Simmet said. "That's kind of how the museum was selected."

They're considering mounting the device on the front of the museum. "(The signal) wouldn't have a full 360-degree (radius) because, obviously, it's not going to go through the building itself," he explained. "It would go up and down that street (M-24), basically a quarter of a mile to a third of a mile each way."

Simmet noted probably the best place for the hotspot device would be on one of the large metal poles located at the Washington/Burdick intersection, which contain cameras and traffic signal controls.

"I think those would be a really great spot, but they're controlled by (the Michigan Department of Transportation) and they're not willing participants (when it comes) to other companies putting equipment on their poles," he explained. "So, I don't think that's a viable option. It would probably be the best solution, but it's just not realistic."

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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