Downtown hot spot endorsed

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Another step has been taken toward making Lewisburg's public square a free Internet hot spot.

Four of five Marshall County commissioners have endorsed the idea fostered by City Manager Tommy Engram.

Internet hot spots are attracting people to redevelopment areas in Chattanooga and Atlanta, the city manager has explained while discussing what is, so far, just a proposal. It's for business and economic daevelopment.

If it's embraced by Lewisburg councilmen, funded in the city's next budget and executed as proposed, people with a wireless computer. Tablet or other mobile device could check e-mail, surf the net and conduct business from their cars, or while seated on a bench on the courthouse lawn.

Its initial cost of $5,000 to $10,000 is no more than a tenth of one percent compared to a city budget of nearly $10 million. Still, details haven't been resolved, although county cooperation was obtained Thursday.

Marshall County Building Committee members voted 4-1 to permit placement of four antennas on the courthouse roof. Commissioner Don Ledford voted no, explaining he didn't want to jeopardize the roof.

For the same reason, Ledford voted no Oct. 17. The Building Committee had only three members present then and two votes aren't a majority of the five-member committee.

Also that night two weeks ago, James Kennon, the county's consulting engineer on courthouse renovation, suggested using the clock towers to protect the electronic equipment. Originally, antennas were to be connected to the frames used to hold heating and cooling equipment to the roof.

Commissioners sought more information Oct. 17, so Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, walked around the square holding a laptop computer to find signals on the square. He found 17. All but one were password locked. One of the 16 is made available to the public, according to information Wiles delivered to the committee on Thursday.

The signals Wiles found are LANs. Local Area Networks are like wireless systems used in homes.

LANs and WiFi are different from what's proposed, according to Engram and Jack Cathey, who runs Megawatt Communications, a service that has provided services to Marshall County Emergency Communications District. Its board oversees 9-1-1 services.

The proposed hot spot would have a business grade signal of 300 megabits per second, Wiles reported.

LANs at Bingham Engineering, Hamlin & Bolling Furniture, TOO Squared, and the Register of Deeds are for those business. Only Primitive Blessings' LAN is free to customers who will be provided a password on request.

If the hot spot signal fails, Cathey said it can be rebooted automatically. He has little, if any, interest in working on the roof, he said.

"I don't see how it would be a problem to install them, especially since they're low maintenance and need only a 110-watt plug," County Commission Chairman Nathan Johnson said.

The next step is development of a hot spot at City Hall.