If you are roaming in Savage without internet access, Mediacom just bought you some web time.
This month, the cable TV company plans to install at least 10 Wi-Fi antennas in central spots around the city, including parks and sports facilities. Only Mediacom subscribers will receive full access to Wi-Fi, but other subscribers can get about 30 minutes for free, an airport-style amenity.
"It's basically like the Wi-Fi you have in your house, but larger and stronger," said Savage's assistant city administrator, Brad Larson. For device holders, it's "just giving you more access to free data."
Savage is one of several testing grounds, and the only one in Minnesota, for the community service, which Mediacom hopes to take national.
This is also Savage's first community Wi-Fi project, as public connectivity is now limited to city facilities. More users using more devices — from tablets to wearable technology — adds virtual traffic, and more Wi-Fi opens up lanes.
Wi-Fi is increasingly available in public spaces besides the typical library or coffee shop; Metro Transit began testing free Wi-Fi on buses last summer. In Minneapolis, free internet is available at 117 hot spots operated by USI Wireless across the city, as part of the state's push to expand broadband technology over the past decade. Comcast said in May that it plans to install more than 1,400 Wi-Fi hot spots at parks, stores and transit stops in the metro area.
Mediacom, based in New York, serves about 185 cities in Minnesota, including Waseca, Prior Lake, Chanhassen, Wayzata and Mound. Key sites for community Wi-Fi typically include shopping centers, downtown areas or public parks, according to Mediacom spokesman Thomas Larsen. He could not provide the number of subscribers in Minnesota for competitive reasons; the company is the state's third-largest cable operator behind Charter and Comcast.
Other cities where Mediacom is testing community Wi-Fi include Columbia, Mo., the Quad Cities in Iowa and Illinois, and Valdosta, Ga. The company announced a $1 billion, three-year project this spring that includes community Wi-Fi as well as 1-gigabit-per-second broadband services to homes across 22 states.
For community Wi-Fi, Savage "seemed like a natural fit that would be attractive to not just our customers but other cable companies," Larsen said.
Mediacom's project also didn't require city approval because of its franchise agreement. The agreement limits the expansion to spaces within the "right of way," Savage's Larson said. If the company wants to install antennas in other private or public spaces, they must negotiate with owners.
At its most recent work session, the City Council asked for more information before taking a position on the project.
"I expect that when Mediacom comes back to the city we will have a better idea for what the community Wi-Fi program is and looks like," Larson said.
Once the first antennas are installed in Savage, several weeks of testing will follow before they're operational.
Mediacom is hoping to join with the state's other major service providers, including Charter and Comcast, to enable all subscribers to connect through interchangeable networks. If a consortium existed, then device users could power up in even more locations for free.
"Our hope is to partner with those providers once we have our national Wi-Fi system up and running," Mediacom's Larsen said.