Friday, April 3, 2009

Ketchum set to shut down free Wi-Fi

Lack of funding to put end to system

Express Staff Writer

Dennis Lopez, an employee of network manager Net Logix, tested the Ketchum Wi-Fi along Fourth Street in Ketchum last August. The wireless Internet system is set to be shut down on April 21 due to a lack of funding. Photo by Greg Stahl

Ketchum residents and visitors could lose their free wireless Internet connection on April 21 due to a lack of funding.

Ketchum Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz said the city has yet to find any corporate sponsors to help foot the monthly $2,500 bill to keep the Wi-Fi system operating. Of that amount, $1,300 goes to equipment and $1,200 to technical support.

The network was originally created through an undisclosed grant from Allen & Co. and launched in September 2007. Since then it's allowed laptop computer users in the downtown core to log onto the Internet, for free.

Horowitz said the grant funded operation through 2008 and that the city had been working since then to find another corporate sponsor.

"I think it's another victim of the economy," she said.

Horowitz said wireless provider Syringa Networks allowed the system to remain in operation for the past three months to give the city time to find funding. She said she looked for possible solutions with local computer consultant Heidi Dohse, who volunteered time to help get the system running and remain operational.

Horowitz also sought help from the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, as well as the Ketchum Community Development Corp., but neither had the money or staff to help.

Horowitz said Ketchum owes Syringa Networks about $6,000.

Horowitz said she will make a recommendation to the Ketchum City Council at a meeting on Tuesday that the system be shut down on April 21, giving users time to make adjustments.

She said about 1,200 people took advantage of the free system each month, logging onto the network throughout Ketchum's downtown core.

However, many users found the system difficult to use during its year-and-a-half-long tenure. Users complained of weak signals indoors, as well as dead spots throughout the city or simply an inability to log on to the system.

Horowitz said she didn't think the council would view the funding of the Wi-Fi system as a priority, especially with two more hotel applications in the pipeline, but that it could be turned back on should funding be found.

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