Eagle Mountain is a small place of only about 20,000 residents tucked behind the Lake Mountains in Utah County. But it might gain one big-city distinction if all goes well because it will be the first town of its size in Utah to get citywide Wi-Fi.
That means by sometime next year, those in Eagle Mountain with a smartphone, laptop or computer tablet will be able to surf the Web and stream movies or music over a Wi-Fi network from anywhere in town. They won’t have to connect with an expensive cellphone carrier’s 3G or 4G network. And when they do connect to the Wi-Fi network, they can surf at speeds much faster than any cellular data connection.
Eagle Mountain’s network, once operational, will offer services over a 53-square mile footprint. Although some smaller communities in Utah, such as Ephraim and Manti, offer city-wide Wi-Fi, their networks cover less than four-square miles.
But unlike other government-run Wi-Fi-networks in, say, Portland, this is a private network that will be available only to subscribers of Direct Communication, the main Internet provider to Eagle Mountain.
Direct started setting up the network for the town’s local Pony Express Days festival last month at the local rodeo grounds, amphitheater and Nolan Park. By the end of this year, the provider hopes to have 20 Wi-Fi towers deployed in the city and 20 more next year, said Direct Communication spokesman Brigham Griffin.
“That’s extremely exciting,” said Mayor Heather Jackson. “We have a lot of young families, a lot of technology-savvy people who live here. I’m excited for people to use that in our city. It’s an asset to our community that we have that other’s don’t.”
According to Muniwireless.com, which tracks the development of municipal broadband networks, there were 110 U.S. cities and towns in 2010 that had deployed them that were open to the public.
Salt Lake City provides free public Wi-Fi networks in some spots, including Liberty Park, Pioneer Park, the Gallivan Center and the public libraries, said Grant Sperry, chief of operations for XMission, the Internet provider that set up the city’s networks.
“We have it in pockets around the city,” he said. “To do something like that for even a small town requires some serious infrastrucure.”
About 40 percent of Eagle Mountain’s residents are connected to a high-speed, fiber-optic network for their Internet connections. The rest are connected via DSL over telephone lines. For the Wi-Fi network, Direct Communications is connecting access points — antennas connected to towers — to its fiber-optic network, which is then fed to the Internet. Each tower has a broadcast range of about 800 feet. Three are up, and Direct’s Griffin said more are planned for the town’s baseball and soccer fields.
It is Direct’s plan to provide about 50 megabits-per-second speed for each tower, but that broadband will be shared, which means as more people in the area get on, the speed slows down.
When it was first deployed for the Pony Express Days celebration, the access was open to everyone for free. But now the network is available only to home subscribers of Direct’s Internet service for no additional charge, although that may change.