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Vidalia launches Wi-Fi project for municipal complex

VIDALIA — The City of Vidalia is closer to bringing high-speed fiber optic Internet to city residents and businesses after launching public wireless Internet access at the city’s municipal complex.

City officials and residents gathered at City Hall Wednesday morning for a presentation by Mayor Hyram Copeland to explain the project and introduce those responsible for helping fund the project.

The Telecommunications Development Fund (TDF) Foundation awarded the city a $30,000 grant in December to deploy a wireless network that will cover the 77 acres that comprise the Vidalia municipal complex, including City Hall, police and fire stations and the recreational fields used by Concordia Recreation District No. 3.

Copeland said the project came about after multiple teams coming to participate in tournaments at the recreation complex asked about Wi-Fi access.

“I was embarrassed to say, ‘No,’ but now I can say we do,” Copeland said. “But the end result of all this is that we will have moved this community forward.”

Bids for equipment came in lower than expected and, after getting permission from the grant agency, the city set up a similar open network on the Vidalia Riverfront, which isn’t yet active.

The open network at the city municipal complex will be limited to 10 mbps (megabits per second) and will restrict access to adult content and video streaming services, such as Netflix, IT Director Bobby Paul said.

“That’s both for safety reasons and to help stop those video streaming sites from eating up all the data,” Paul said. “But the speed is pretty good because that’s faster than what most people have in their home.”

Copeland said the project would not have been possible without the funding from TDF and the help of Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office.

The TDF was founded in 2008 with the mission of bringing communications technology and opportunities to areas underserved by Internet providers.

TDF Director Linda Nickell said the foundation’s first Wi-Fi project was completed in Hammond, La., and members were excited to bring the project to another Louisiana city.

“We’re pleased to be bringing Wi-Fi to this beautiful community,” Nickell said.

The Wi-Fi installation is part of the city’s overall goal, the Vidalia Broadband Initiative, which aims to build a technology center at the old city hall and install high-speed fiber optic Internet access throughout the city.

The fiber will offer up to 1 gigabyte per second to city residents, businesses, schools and hospitals, Copeland said.

“It’s going to be a tremendous economic development tool for this community and region,” Copeland said. “That’s why it’s so important to be there with this new technology for our residents and businesses in Concordia Parish.”

Concordia Parish Economic Development Director Heather Malone said having the high-speed Internet available will be a great recruiting tool.

“Broadband is such a routine infrastructure for companies nowadays that they almost assume you have it, and us not having it could have hurt us in the long run,” Malone said. “Now, we’ll be able to use this as a tool to recruit new businesses and offer it to our existing businesses.”

Copeland said the city is waiting confirmation of a $1.8 million grant to begin tearing down old city hall and begin putting down fiber across the city. If the grant comes through in the next month as expected, Copeland said the new technology center could be ready within 12 to 18 months. The six-phase broadband initiative would take roughly three years to complete.