After resolving a series of technical and logistical issues, the College is now finalizing plans to extend its wireless network into downtown Brunswick. Students and faculty will have access to the network along Maine Street indefinitely, while Brunswick residents will be able to use the wireless Internet during a free two-month trial period.
"Originally, we wanted to link Fort Andross with the College using our wireless network through Brunswick," said Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis. "Even if Brunswick doesn't want the wireless after two months, the network will still be there for Bowdoin students to use."
Early last spring, Bowdoin developed a plan with local Internet service provider Great Works Internet (GWI) to extend its wireless network into downtown Brunswick for students, faculty, and town residents. GWI was interested in developing pilot projects for wireless Internet in Maine towns, including Brunswick.
However, a few problems impeded its progress, including a need to access the power poles in town to hook up the new wireless access points. A bigger issue was the Federal Communications Commission's "Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act" (CALEA). Initially created to allow phone tapping by law enforcement if necessary, the regulation was revised and now applies to Internet networks as well.
Davis was concerned about opening a private network to the public and was unsure how the new CALEA regulations would affect Bowdoin's standing with the law. Now, Davis said, there shouldn't be a problem with the law as long as GWI is the Internet service provider (ISP), and not the College.
In addition, Davis said he has since talked with officials and gained access to the Verizon, Brunswick, and Central Maine Power (CMP) power poles, if necessary.
Bowdoin's Manager of Network Operations Jason Lavoie said the wireless network, using new "mesh" technology, will consist of six wireless access points attached to power poles along Maine Street in Brunswick. Lavoie described the network as a relatively simple extension when compared to the 195 access points already on campus.
During the two months Brunswick residents will be able to access the network, GWI hopes to collect general information about its users: who's using it, where, for what services. With these data, GWI will be able to propose options for continued service to Brunswick or other municipalities.
If Brunswick wants to continue using the network, they can also expand it. "With this technology, in the future it may be feasible to link the network to more local businesses or restaurants, such as the Sea Dog Brewing Co. on the river," said Lavoie. "It will all depend on the success of the network in town and how it is later coordinated."
Town Councilor Ryan Ewing said that he supports wireless Internet in town, but needs to explore the options.
"As a councilor, of course I want to provide whatever services I can to residents. I definitely want this to happen for Brunswick?it's a great amenity to offer as an incentive to move and start businesses here?but I have a few concerns," said Ewing. "Is this going to disrupt the town or the business model we have already worked to provide?"
Currently, Verizon wi-fi is available to local businesses and area hot-spots, such as the Little Dog Coffee Shop and the Bohemian Coffee House. Ewing said that it seems fair that the wireless Internet should encompass all of Brunswick, citing other towns in Maine with similar setups, such as Waterville, Bar Harbor, and Bangor.
"If this becomes a paid luxury item that the whole town won't even have access to, then we need to prioritize. We're still trying to cut taxes and build up some infrastructure, such as the sidewalks for the town," said Ewing.
Davis insisted that implementing the system in Brunswick is not going to cost the town anything, nor is it any sort of a definite commitment. He said that once the trial period is over, there is no obligation to continue with GWI. Also, Bowdoin's network would not interfere with any options later pursued by Brunswick.
Paul Harrison, owner of The Little Dog Coffee Shop in Brunswick, offers free wireless Internet to patrons. He said people come in to use the Internet "all the time," and thinks it would be a positive thing for the rest of downtown to have wireless, too.
"When people look for a town to start a business or move into, the great college helps, as do any extra amenities," said Harrison.
"If the wireless was already there, then it's just one more selling point for someone to start a new business," he said.
There is still some planning left to do for the network and access point sites are being tested to see what works best. Bowdoin will have to confirm plans with the town of Brunswick, but Davis and Lavoie said downtown residents are excited about it.
"You can't please everybody if you want to start something new," said Harrison.
"You look for something that's a smart use and has a lot of potential, and then it grows from there."