Group works for wifi through Cathlamet
December 17, 2020
There has been a lot of talk in the past couple months about a community wifi project that will run the length of downtown Cathlamet as well as provide service at the Elochoman Slough Marina.
“Wifi is just a way for people to get connected to the internet,” Steve Carson of Skamokawa Internet Services said. “This will allow someone to sit downtown, use their phone to get on a wifi hotspot which then connects them to the internet.”
This will not provide internet service to local businesses. This is short term usage for people who are downtown and need to connect to the internet temporarily.
“Users will see plenty of bandwidth for what they need to use here,” Carson said. “I think the good news is that it will provide a valuable service for people needing to be able to get information about what is available in the community.
"It will also provide information to guests who come on our network, by getting them to the chamber website, or maybe check out a community calendar. It will show people we are more than just a place to recharge their electric car and hopefully encourage them the next time they are passing through to make us the destination.”
The origin of the project began with a fortuitous meeting at the Covered Bridge Dinner in 2018 when David and Dayle Olson happened to sit across from Carson and his wife, Lorraine.
Both couples were new to the area. Olson had retired from telecommunications, broadband policy, and regulation in Portland, and Carson was working on the technology, IT, communication side of things.
“We joked about our nerdy professional lives,” Olson said.
They also spoke about how they had been drawn in by this beautiful area, and how they wanted to be a part of the community.
Eventually both got involved with the Broadband Action Committee. Olson had joined the Cathlamet Town Council, and Carson had started Skamokawa Internet Service after discovering he needed better internet service in Skamokawa, and so did his neighbors.
Olson, who joined the Town of Cathlamet after the purchase of the Butler Street property, had been giving a lot of thought to the design of the newly proposed park, which in his mind included an electric charging station for vehicles, and an information kiosk and wifi node.
“The notion of public wifi was a supplement to the hoped for charging station at the Butler Street lot,” Carson said, “so people who are sitting there have something to do, to get them out, and into the shops.”
The scope of the project grew from that location. Initially their idea was to provide public wifi from the Wahkiakum School District through downtown to Butler Street and then down to the Elochoman Slough Marina.
Olson went to his colleagues at the Town of Cathlamet and proposed the idea of a private/public partnership with Skamokawa Internet Services.
He also contacted the Wahkiakum County Board of Commissioners, the Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce, Wahkiakum School District and Wahkiakum County Port 1.
The school district had no need, so the scope of the project shifted to span from the Scarborough Building to the Butler Park property, and again at the marina.
Wahkiakum County commissioners agreed to participate and have allowed the use of $11,518 in CARES Act funds to pay for all the hardware needed to make the project happen.
The Chamber was so excited about the project that they were said to have voted twice to support it, and the town and the port decided to sign on, too. Those three entities will split the bill, a total of $175 a month, to pay for internet and any other routine maintenance and security needed to keep the wifi going.
Now, Carson and Olson have reached out to Wahkiakum PUD and asked if they would like to participate and possibly extend the service to River Street as well.
The PUD is expected to decide at their next meeting.
Carson believes that it will be two or three months before Noanet, who will be the wholesaler providing the internet service, installs fiber to the Butler Street property, and a kiosk of some kind will be set up.
“That will be the hinge pin for the whole thing to get rolling,” he said. “I expect the wifi will be up and running by summer.”
“The greater connectivity you have,” Olson said, “the more prosperous your community is. The better off your citizens are, the more you help with every other issue the community is working on, whether it’s health care, transportation, economic development, education.”
And more. So much more, Olson believes. More than he can imagine.