Watertown receives grant for downtown wi-fi

Watertown City Administrator Luke Fischer informed a group of local business owners at last week’s Chamber of Commerce meeting at R&B Cafe that the city was successful in its grant request for money to aid with the installation of wireless internet throughout the downtown business district.

The grant, from the Blandin Community Broadband Program, is for $10,000. The Blandin program aims to match funds to help rural communities provide abundant access to the internet and promote digital literacy skills. Since making rural broadband use a focus 10 years ago, the Blandin Foundation has partnered with more than 60 communities and 80 organizations from around the state.

The grant approval appears to be a major step toward installing wireless internet throughout Watertown’s downtown area. Free wireless internet is already available in the new downtown park at the intersection of Lewis Avenue and Madison Street, but this new wi-fi would be more far reaching.

Fischer said he anticipates the wi-fi could be installed as soon as next spring, hopefully before the anticipated bridge reconstruction project commences.

The new wi-fi would rely on routers that would affixed to the outside of businesses on Lewis Avenue. The internet would be available for free, without a password, to anybody outside in the downtown area, and potentially within businesses as well, depending on the signal’s ability to penetrate through the walls of each business.

In an unrelated city matter, Fischer also informed the Chamber of Commerce that the city council was planning to select one of two firms during its meeting on Tuesday to hire a new city administrator. Fischer recently accepted a position with the city of Plymouth, and his last day in Watertown will be Nov. 8.

Fischer said it is expected to take three to six months for whichever firm the city council selects to hire his replacement. In the interim, though, he said he felt the city should get along just fine, and that consulting staff will have increased hours at city hall.