2014-07-03 / Life in Leelanau

FREE WI-FI – SERVICE WITH A SMILE

By Patti Brandt
Of The Enterprise staff


TOM GROGAN, who lives on a houseboat at the Leland Harbor during the summer, loves the free Wi-Fi service he is getting. The service was installed in June. TOM GROGAN, who lives on a houseboat at the Leland Harbor during the summer, loves the free Wi-Fi service he is getting. The service was installed in June. People may be unwinding when they visit Leelanau County, but sneaking a peek at their emails, updating their Facebook status and checking the score of the Tigers game may be temptations they just can’t resist.

So for those visiting Empire and now the Leland Harbor and even parts of Fishtown, getting free Wi-Fi Internet usage for all their electronic devices is a welcome service.

And people who are using it are reporting speeds of up to 80 megabytes per second, said Jim Selby, owner of Aspen Wireless, the company that installed and is maintaining the service.

Tom Grogan, of Cincinatti, lives on his houseboat in the Leland Harbor during the summer. A retired community college teacher, Grogan has moored his houseboat at the harbor for the last couple of years.

He loves the speedy Internet service he now gets while using his laptop.

So does Russell Dzuba, Leland harbormaster.

“It’s improved 100-fold since last year in the sense that we have Wi-Fi coverage,” Dzuba said. “That was one of the biggest complaints I had, poor Wi-Fi service.”

Dzuba said the township needed good service for the recent Leland Wine & Food Festival, held June 14.

“We had good coverage all over the parking lots and we had good coverage all over the docks,” Dzuba said. “That was the proof in the pudding. It went off without a hitch.”

The township has agreements with three Fishtown businesses — Manitou Island Transit, Fishtown Preservation Society and Two Fish Gallery — who have hooked up to the service and will share costs of $3,600 per year with the township.

“The public Wi-Fi in Fishtown is working really well so far, and we’re getting great feedback from visitors on the speed of the service,” said Elitza Nicolaou, operations manager for Fishtown Preservation. “People seem to love it.”

The businesses aren’t using it full time because the line is not yet secure — something that needs to be done in order to process credit card transactions.

Dzuba said the service will eventually be secured for businesses and for those mooring their boats at the harbor who will be given a password when they check in. The system will also be set up so that other people visiting the harbor can use the service for free for half an hour, but then will have to pay for extended use.

Aspen Wireless also installed a wireless network for Empire Village about two years ago and now owns it, having purchased it from the village for $3,000 about a year ago.

Wireless access points were recently upgraded in Empire to the latest and greatest that are available, at a cost of about $12,000, Selby said. The company has been making upgrades and expanding service since it was purchased, he said.

The network currently covers about one square mile, from the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center to the Empire Beach, and about a half mile in either direction on M-22, Selby said.

The village still gets the service for free at its offices, though deputy clerk Darlene Friend said the township still uses a service that was in place before the wireless service was added.

But visitors — including Friend’s grandson — love it and use it all the time, she said.

The wireless service was originally installed in Empire with a $20,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation, which paid for infrastructure and the first year of operational expenses.

The first 15 minutes on the system is free, courtesy of the Empire Area Chamber of Commerce, which pays a monthly fee for it, Selby said.

“It’s for people who are just passing through there and want to just hop on and check their email,” he said.

After 15 minutes users must sign up for service at rates of about $6 per day, $20 per week, $30 per month or $249 per year. Short-term rates are ideal for people on vacation or those who only live in Empire part-time, Selby said.

There are about 50 regular customers, Selby said, but at any given time during the summer season there are up to about 1,000 users on the system.

“It’s amazing how many people actually use the system,” he said. “We have tens of thousands of free takers. Everybody likes free.”

Selby, who was a long-time Leelanau County summer resident, now lives in Maple City, where he runs the business out of a pole barn at his home.

Selby said wireless access needs to be expanded all around the county — something he is working on.

“There are some people starving for broadband around us,” Selby said.

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