Vermont lawmakers get Wi-Fi

Montpelier, Vt.'s 146-year-old Vermont State House will get a Wi-Fi network that will provide Internet access to 180 legislators, staff and the public.

The State House, where the General Assembly convenes each year from January to May, will be a public hot spot for the press and police. Every room, including the chambers and cafeteria, will have wireless access -- at a cost of about $50,000. Summit Technologies, the designer, is using a mesh environment to develop topography, so no Ethernet wire is required other than through the main switch in an attic ceiling above the main chamber.

The modernization is part of MontpelierNet, a larger, point-to-multipoint wireless network that brings affordable broadband to the city and local business. The next phase of the MontpelierNet project will expand the system into central downtown Montpelier. The city has a population of 8,000.

Many Vermont state legislators hold outside jobs. Al Levy, president of Summit Technologies, said General Assembly members work on those other jobs and government legislation simultaneously -- and wirelessly -- in the State House. "It's really necessary that their businesses are running well, so they can focus on their jobs here," Levy said.

Right now, legislators bring their own laptop computers because the state can't afford to provide them.

One legislator sees wireless access as the missing link to area residents. "It allows us to stay in touch with constituents in a way we haven't been before.... We don't have personal staff here and we don't have offices here, so it's a huge plus for us," said Janet Ancel, a representative from Washington District 6. She will hook up both a handheld device and a laptop computer.

The environment was a challenge, said Johannes Jobst, Summit vice president and chief technology officer. "It's [a] very hilly, rural environment," he said. "In the State House, it is very old and antique and you can't put anything in it that would infringe upon the looks. None of access points are visible. ... No antennas."

A curator was consulted on the installation because the State House is a historic building. "It's very much like a museum here," Levy said. "As a result, aesthetics and historical preservation is very critical."

"The cost to bring Wi-Fi metro service to such a large area as Montpelier is less than one-tenth the cost of putting in cellular base stations or [Digital Subscriber Line] cabling across the city," Levy said in an e-mail message. "We are not talking about small, isolated hot spots. We are talking about connecting our communities."

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