CEN Partners with Members to Offer Free High-Speed Public Wi-Fi Access

Connecticut Education Network bringing free, high-speed public Wi-Fi to Middletown

CEN Partners with Members to Offer Free High-Speed Public Wi-Fi Access

MIDDLETOWN — When pretty much everything goes online, pretty much everyone needs to be able to get online.

The public soon will gain access to a reliable Wi-Fi network free of charge in two areas of the city, as part of a state-funded program aimed at municipalities with high numbers of unconnected households.

The state identified Middletown as one of the towns that would most benefit from the service, according to Gov. Ned Lamont’s “Everybody Learns” initiative, which is creating 200 such community sites across Connecticut. It will be unrolled shortly at the Russell Library, 123 Broad St., and City Hall, 245 deKoven Drive.

“That’s exactly what the city of Middletown needs,” said Bryan Skowera, director of information systems. There will be no cost to taxpayers, and the hardware is being given to the city at no charge.

Since 2000, the Connecticut Educational Network has provided members “reliable, low-latency, high-speed networking and security services,” according to its website. The agency is run out of the University of Connecticut.

The public can access the service at gigabyte speeds within a 300-foot radius of the facilities, according to CEN.

“The joy of being able to host this at City Hall is that when the weather is nicer, we have park benches, shade, a nice lawn with a view of the river, and the deck around City Hall,” Skowera said.

The service requires direct access to the CEN’s fiber optic network, so he does not anticipate it being rolled out at city parks. “It is run either through the aerials on the overhead wires or through underground conduit,” Skowera said.

The service is also COVID-friendly, Skowera said. “There will be opportunities for people to gather, but not have to be close to each other to access the service.”

“The governor is very committed to bridging Connecticut’s digital divide, especially given the importance of internet connectivity as COVID-19 forces families to attend school, go to work, and get health care online,” according to a press release.

Already, people congregate near municipal offices, more so in spring and summer.

“In warmer months, I’ve always been used to seeing passersby, members of the downtown community and families taking advantage of the public space, during (for example) a nice Wednesday afternoon, sitting down, out of the office or taking a break on the weekend from their shopping — just sitting and reflecting on the beauty of the riverfront,” Skowera said.

Patrons also will be able to access broadband outside the Russell Library on the benches, lawn, nearby parking spots and, possibly, in the closest section of the Broad Street municipal lot, directly across the street, according to Director Ramona Burkey.

While some may be able to pick up a weak signal from the library, its Wi-fi technology is built for interior only, she said. “We’ve got those 200-year-old brownstone walls that are several feet thick, and the signal is not very strong outside from inside.

“With the access points outdoors, that are designed to be outdoors and have a pretty wide broadcast range, you’ll have a much better signal when you’re outside,” Burkey said.

After a year, these access points will be donated to the sites, which then will pay a very small fee ($100 annually) to maintain services, Skowera said. They are expensive, he added.

“All encompassing public Wi-Fi is a tremendous investment in a community. In some ways, it requires the creation of a utility, or utility-like, governing body,” Skowera said. “If you think about it, it’s not just a single piece of equipment.

“It is a series of different types of equipment that has to be constantly connected, monitored, and connected to an internet provider that people can rely on,” he said. “We can’t stop at deploying one access point and walk away from it, saying that will meet the community needs. It requires constant monitoring and constant maintenance.”

These hotspots are an alternative to businesses, such as coffeehouses, that offer free Wi-Fi to customers. “Students, families and anyone else who needs a place to go without having to buy a sandwich or coffee or be a consumer, they can access a free signal with reliable internet service,” Skowera said.

The library is offering curbside-only pickup during the pandemic.

“Now, anytime the library is not open, especially when the weather is nice out, people will be able to grab a free wireless signal and do whatever they need to do — whether it’s from a laptop or their mobile device,” Burkey said.

“That resource will be available to them at any time: 24/7, 365 (hours a day) just outside the library,” she said.

“The internet service is leveraging CEN, which is a wonderful resource for municipalities, schools and library systems behind the scenes, without any work from the public who use it, the public agencies who leverage it, and schools that rely on it,” Skowera said.

CED also provides “excellent protections,” which stop [Blockchain Denial of Service] attacks, Skowera said. “They provide such amazing services to us. They are a success story, from top to bottom.

“They’re a very small agency that provides an immense amount of services that protects our children, our constituents, and they’re available for businesses as well,” the director said.


Read more about Governor Lamant’s Everyone Learns project here including the full list of public wi-fi access points.

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