The Plaza is now con­nected

City of­fers free Wi-Fi con­nec­tion in 400-year-old space

Albuquerque Journal - - JOURNAL NORTH - BY T.S. LAST JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

You can now ac­cess the in­ter­net from a park bench on the Plaza.

Since the be­gin­ning of the year, Santa Fe city gov­ern­ment has been pro­vid­ing free Wi-Fi ser­vice in the heart of the city.

“I think it’s the kind of thing cities ought to be mak­ing avail­able,” said Randy Ran­dall, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Tourism Santa Fe. “Hope­fully, it will be come a per­ma­nent ad­di­tion to what we of­fer res­i­dents and vis­i­tors on the Plaza.”

Ran­dall de­scribed what’s cur­rently in place as a pi­lot pro­gram.

“It’s a pi­lot be­cause, if it works out well on the Plaza, it can be pushed out to ar­eas be­yond the Plaza area,” he said. “If you go as far down as the Len­sic (Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter), you could lose con­nec­tiv­ity.”

So far, two Wi-Fi an­ten­nas have been in­stalled atop build­ings on the Plaza, with two more planned, pend­ing per­mis­sion from prop­erty

own­ers and mod­i­fi­ca­tion of an agree­ment with PNM, which owns the light poles in the Plaza area.

Users can now ac­cess Wi-Fi at cer­tain lo­ca­tions in the down­town area — mostly ho­tels, but also some cof­fee shops and the main li­brary on Wash­ing­ton Av­enue — as well as ho­tels and busi­nesses in other parts of the city. But they usu­ally re­quire users to be pa­trons who have to sign in with an ac­cess code. Now, any­one in the vicin­ity of the Plaza can just tap into the Wi-Fi net­work marked “SF Plaza Free Wifi.”

An on­line search shows that many cities in Amer­ica of­fer free Wi-Fi to some sec­tions of their towns, of­ten at pub­lic li­braries. But few large cities pro­vide ac­cess in out­door ar­eas like Santa Fe’s Plaza, a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark which dates from the 1600s.

In an ef­fort to curb abuse, users in Santa Fe are lim­ited to con­nec­tion speeds of 10 megabytes per sec­ond.

Ran­dall said each Wi-Fi an­tenna — ac­tu­ally ra­dios that send and re­ceive sig­nals — can han­dle up to 250 users. So, about 500 peo­ple can now ac­cess the net­work at one time. When all four an­ten­nas are in place, as many as 1,000 peo­ple could ac­cess the in­ter­net, which could come in handy for events like the city’s New Year’s cel­e­bra­tion or Fi­esta if that many peo­ple were stream­ing video of the event.

While free and with­out re­stric­tion, Ran­dall said the city may re­quire users to pro­vide an email ad­dress be­fore log­ging in. The ad­dress users pro­vide would not be sold or dis­trib­uted to any­one else, but would be used strictly for sur­vey pur­poses, Ran­dall said.

One of the first ques­tions they may be asked is whether they are a vis­i­tor or a res­i­dent of the city.

“And once they sign in, they won’t have to sign in again. It will be there the next time they want to use it,” he said.

Ran­dall said the idea to bring free Wi-Fi to the down­town area came at the sug­ges­tion of Stephen Res­nick, who co-chairs the Santa Fe Cham­ber of Com­merce’s Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee.

Ran­dall said the Wi-Fi around the Plaza would only mod­er­ately af­fect cell­phone ser­vice down­town, which has been a prob­lem in the past. In De­cem­ber 2017, then-Mayor Javier Gon­za­les de­clared an emer­gency “due to the lapse of cel­lu­lar net­works and telecommunications ca­pa­bil­i­ties” that he said had be­come a pub­lic safety con­cern. Tem­po­rary cell­phone tow­ers were in­stalled through­out the city in an ef­fort to al­le­vi­ate the prob­lem.

There is one is­sue that still needs to be worked out, Ran­dall said. All the street­light poles around the Plaza are ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing light, not to act as a power source for the equip­ment that makes Wi-Fi pos­si­ble, he said. So city of­fi­cials will meet with PNM rep­re­sen­ta­tives next week to try to work out an agree­ment in which at least one pole could be me­tered sep­a­rately from the oth­ers to ac­count for pow­er­ing the Wi-Fi sys­tem.

“We can’t use the power from that pole for any­thing else,” Ran­dall said, adding that the an­ten­nas re­quire only enough power to light a 60 watt light bulb. “But with the (state Pub­lic Reg­u­la­tion Com­mis­sion) reg­u­la­tions, we can’t use even that much if it’s not sep­a­rately me­tered.”

Ran­dall said fund­ing for the project is through an ex­ist­ing con­tract the city has with Santa Fe’s Cy­ber Mesa Tele­com. The tourism de­part­ment is pay­ing the $750 monthly cost for the broad­band ac­cess.

Pro­vid­ing Wi-Fi ser­vice on the Plaza is just one of many lit­tle things that make a tourist’s visit to the city more en­joy­able, Ran­dall said.

“We need to con­stantly be look­ing for ways that we can en­hance a vis­i­tor’s ex­pe­ri­ence in Santa Fe, and this will be one of them,” he said, adding that it is one of many “lit­tle things” that add up and en­hance Santa Fe’s rep­u­ta­tion a pop­u­lar va­ca­tion spot.

T.S. LAST/JOUR­NAL

All you have to do is click. Santa Fe res­i­dents and vis­i­tors can now ac­cess free Wi-Fi ser­vice on the city’s his­toric down­town Plaza.

T.S. LAST/AL­BU­QUERQUE JOUR­NAL

Santa Fe res­i­dents and vis­i­tors alike can now ac­cess free Wi-Fi ser­vice on the city’s his­toric down­town Plaza.

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