Newton's downtown is "hot"

City of Newton offers free wireless Internet access in downtown area, public parks and city facilities.

Breakout box: Access City of Newton Free: Anyone using a computer or smart phone that has a wireless Internet adapter can access the network. Users must first acknowledge the city's Internet policy, then Internet access is free. The network is a secure network.

The city of Newton is getting hot, hot, hot.

Jacobs Fork Park is a hotspot, and so is the city pool. City hall is hot, and, in fact, the downtown Newton business district is one of the hottest spots in the city.

Even when fall and winter's coldest temps arrive in the region, Newton will still be hot in these locations and maybe even a few more.


Newton is now offering visitors, citizens and businesses in the city free wireless network capabilities. This network, or "Wi-Fi," delivers free Internet access to people using computers or "smart" phones near one of the city's wireless "hotspots."

"The city of Newton is pleased to offer free Wi-Fi in our downtown area, and I encourage our residents, business owners and visitors to utilize this unique benefit," said Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax. "This is uncharted territory for the city, and I am sure this will enhance our daily lives and the vitality of the downtown area as time goes by."

Newton Information Systems Director Jason Clay briefed Newton leaders on the city's Wi-Fi project, called "City of Newton Free," during Tuesday's City Council meeting. Clay said that by offering free access to Wi-Fi at locations throughout the city, Newton can attract more customers to the downtown business district, while also supporting small businesses in the area. With Wi-Fi access in public parks and city facilities, he said Newton hopes to encourage citizens to visit those places.

"We want to encourage more access for citizens to get online," he said.

The network is secure, Clay said, explaining anyone using the Internet access at any time can not see others who are also using the Wi-Fi network. Likewise, the city does not have access to any information on the computers that log on to the network, but IS workers can see the type of computer and its operating system or whether a smart phone is being used.

"Last month, we had 632 unique devices that made connections, and of those, 359 were smart phones or iPads," Clay said, adding the high point was Soldiers Reunion Day when 144 users accessed the network during the parade. "In the past week 236 clients transfered almost 23 gigs of information."

Newton's wireless network also blocks certain websites, Clay said, such as adult sites, gambling sites and Internet radio sites.

In addition to making wireless Internet access available to citizens, the project also makes Internet access convenient for city employees.The network helps city workers monitor Newton's water supply and power grid and access Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Clay said. It also enables communication access for the Newton Police data terminals inside patrol cars. Plans are also in progress to establish new public safety mobile applications that would give police officers real-time access to data.

Wireless access is also available for use by businesses within range of the network, but Clay said it is intended for "casual, non-critical usage."

"However, if it meets your business needs and you agree to the usage policy every single day, you can do that," he said. "The staff does not provide technical support."

Free wireless Internet access for citizens also came at a bargain price for the city, he said. Original estimates to provide Wi-Fi throughout downtown ranged from $50,000 to $150,000 he said.

"That cost was just too difficult to justify," he said, adding that instead of outsourcing the project, Newton's IS department developed its own low-cost solution. "Currently we only have $3,000 invested in this Wi-Fi project."

With the help of city electric crews, Newton's IS department installed antennas at locations such as power poles, water tanks and even the roofs at city buildings.

"Given our success so far, our goal is to continue expanding the network to include the entire city limits," he said.

Clay said expansion of the network is planned for Southside Park and other park and city facilities in the future.

Additional phases of wireless network expansion are included in the city's Capital Improvement Plan, which must be approved each year by City Council.

"We are doing good. It is a heck of a start," Mullinax said. "It is not perfect, but it is better than we used to have."