Free public Wi-Fi may be coming to four Manteca commercial areas — The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley, Stadium Retail Center/Big League Dreams, the Spreckels Park retail area, and downtown.
The City Council directed staff to proceed with work on a master lease agreement allowing wireless vendors to operate in the community by placing antennas on the city’s vertical infrastructure — primarily street lights. The unanimous decision also approved a one-time city investment of waiving $33,250 in city permitting and inspection fees for the initial 25 antennas (at $1,330 apiece) as well as covering ongoing power costs for those 25 antennas to the tune of upwards of $1,500 annually.
That essentially allows the first vendor that installs the equipment to get a foothold in the Manteca market to use those same antennas to sell locked down wireless Internet access primarily to business customers.
Senior Management Analyst Randy Saffold noted the service available to businesses will be competitively priced — essentially less than Comcast charges for comparable service. The Wi-Fi Internet system, especially in areas in downtown, will serve businesses that currently do not have access to Comcast cable unless they are willing to invest significant money upfront for extending the company’s cable network.
The push to secure a free public access wireless provider is part of a multi-faceted game plan outlined by the Economic Development Committee and adopted last month by the City Council to enhance the business climate in Manteca.
Saffold noted the free segment of the system is designed to allow up to 15 public users to access up to 5 megabytes at any given time from each antenna. It would allow the public to access store coupons in areas of Manteca where some providers’ cellular service is weak or non-existent such as AT&T availability at portions of the Stadium Retail Center.
It also would allow the public to check emails and social media but not items that require a lot of data such as streaming movies. After a set amount of time, the free public users’ connection will be cutoff.
The proposal is similar to what Fire2Wire has been providing in downtown Modesto since 2015.
The business model for a firm to make profit is to be able to sell secured service to businesses near the 25 antennas. Under the Manteca master plan besides waiving the permitting fees and covering ongoing power costs for the initial 25 antennas, the city will provide free access to its vertical assets for the antennas on non-shared poles while the provider will pay for and maintain the equipment.
The cost to the vendor is $1,200 per antenna for the equipment and installation. That represents a $30,000 investment before the private firm has even one paying customer signed up.
The master lease agreement would apply to all vertical assets in the city that the initial firm, which likely will be Fire2Wire, and any subsequent competitors to add additional antennas beyond the first 25.
The antennas have to be placed high enough to work meaning signals have to clear physical obstructions. The effective range per antenna is 400 to 600 feet. That means in some areas where the free public Wi-Fi service is going nearby homes that are close to the antennas could likely obtain reliable service with megabytes comparable to Comcast. That is especially true in parts of the Curran Grove and Powers Tract neighborhoods immediately west of Spreckels Park where all the homes closet to one proposed antennae are one story.
Providers are able to split bandwidth the same way it is done in places like Starbucks where the business has a secured portion of the bandwidth and a segment is provided as free bandwidth to the public.
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