New Bedford's free Wi-Fi a downtown draw

By Auditi Guha
September 25, 2014 12:00 AM
Leida Duarte-Souto likes to use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat on her phone. So she was excited to learn she could enjoy social media for free in Wings Court Wednesday evening.
“That’s pretty cool,” said the 22-year-old Bristol Community College student about the free WiFi provided by the city. She said she plans to spread the word and sit and work in the park in the future.
So does Shawn McGrath, sitting at a table in Custom House Square Park.
“I think it’s a beautiful idea. I usually go to the library, but I would come out and sit here and work with my laptop,” he said.
New Bedford first offered free WiFi at City Hall about three years ago “to assist individuals coming in looking to do business with us,” said Maria Pina-Rocha, director of management information systems. The service was expanded to the Custom House area last summer in an effort to make people visit and stay downtown.
“Everyone is so connected nowadays. It allows people to come down to a different area and work here and maybe spend money at the local businesses — so we think it’s a win-win,” Pina-Rocha said.
While most public libraries provide free connectivity to the public, few area governments come close to this level of service.
Dartmouth implemented a password-protected system at Town Hall in September 2011 when selectmen started using tablets at their meetings. It is shared with a select few and accommodates less than 100 people at a time, said Town Administrator David Cressman.
“No one has expressed any interest,” he said.
Mattapoisett also provides password-protected WiFi within Town Hall “for the purposes of town meeting and conferencing,” and Town Administrator Michael Gagne. The town is considering offering it to the public, he said.
Free WiFi is available at the Mattapoisett harbormaster’s office but Jill Simmons said the concrete building does not allow the signal to travel beyond the bench outside. “I use it all the time. It’s the only way I can connect,” she said.
Lakeville also provides a password-protected network as part of an ongoing technology upgrade but there is no public Internet access at the Acushnet, Fairhaven, Rochester and Westport town halls, officials reached in those towns said.
“There hasn’t been a lot of discussion on it,” said Jeffrey Osuch, executive secretary in Fairhaven.
“Our town hall isn’t in a location that generates the kind of public traffic that requires WiFi,” said Tim King, Westport Town Administrator.
New Bedford is thinking of expanding wireless service to other open areas in town, Pina-Rocha said. So far, not many know about the free WiFi downtown but area businesses and passing residents were happy to hear about it.
“It’s like Boston. I could sit here and work and not spend money at the coffeehouse,” said Tim Heath walking his dog downtown. “I give the mayor credit for what he’s done downtown.”
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