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RTS Buses Could Possibly Gain Free Wi-Fi, City Commission Subcommittee Says

The Gainesville City Commission’s Broadband Connectivity Subcommittee met Wednesday to discuss the addition of wireless down Southwest Second Avenue and the possible addition of wireless internet service to Gainesville Regional Transit System buses.

As part of the subcommittee’s goal to create more internet access for the University of Florida and Gainesville, the subcommittee plans to extend free wireless service on Southwest Second Avenue from Southwest 13th Street to Main Street and eventually into Depot Park.

Commissioner Harvey Ward chairs the committee with Commissioner David Arreola as vice chair, and Commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos and Gigi Simmons serving as committee members.

The expansion will also create internet access points in UF’s Innovation Square, said Lucian Badea, the director of technology for Gainesville.

“Depot Park is a high interest for UF because it is very likely that’s going to be used by all the students with all the events that go on,” Badea said.

Dan Hoffman, Gainesville’s assistant city manager, said the plan is to put access points in down Southwest Second Avenue and slowly fill in sections of the corridor over time as the city sees opportunities and a larger budget.

Eduroam, a roaming service for educational institutions and those involved in it to access the internet from any eduroam-enabled institution, will combine with Cox Communications’ internet and Gainesville Regional Utilities internet, GRUCom, for this project.

UF, Cox and GRUCom will maintain the service, with each organization repairing equipment it owns, Badea said.

Hoffman said the city plans to have all the initial internet access points in by the end of summer 2019 for SW 2nd Avenue and will continue improving the internet access by adding Wi-Fi to RTS buses.

Three buses on campus routes piloted the program, each using a different company’s equipment, Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the most significant problem the city has is the varying ages and models of each bus.

If and when the Wi-Fi will be implemented and if it will be a gradual implementation or all at once, all depends on funding, Hoffman said. It would take several months to install, even if all the funding was available already.

The city will not begin adding Wi-Fi to the buses until they find the money to cover the costs, Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the initial cost would be about $338,000, with an additional $158,000 for maintenance each year. Adding Wi-Fi would cost about $2,400 per vehicle initially, with maintenance costs of $1,100 per vehicle annually.

Committee members said providing more free internet access has exciting implications for Gainesville’s future.

“I’ve been really pleased with this,” Ward said. “It’s not just cool. It’s something that affects their lives for the better. It’s a very positive thing going on.”

Blake is a student reporter for WUFT and can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.