Trash can Wi-Fi hot spots come to west Louisville

Two solar-powered wi-fi hot spots in two Big Belly trash and recycling units offer free internet on Market and 25th and 28th streets. Credit: The Courier-Journal

It’s a trash and recycling bin that doubles as your free link to the world, which Louisville officials say is the first innovation of its kind to be deployed in the world.

Mayor Greg Fischer joined business leaders and online entrepreneurs to unveil two Big Belly compaction waste units Wednesday that have been converted into solar-powered wireless 4G hot spots.

“When we show this demand, it demonstrates we’re more attractive to Internet providers,” Fischer said. “They want to see if there’s a market for their services.”

The bins will bring free Internet access to residents, businesses and visitors of the Russell neighborhood in western Louisville at two of TARC’s busiest bus stops along Mark Street at the intersections of 25th and 28th streets. Average weekday trips on the No. 15 route total more than 2,200, according to transit officials.

Each Big Belly Wi-Fi location emits a hot spot radius of about 100 feet of coverage and will operate between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., but city leaders say those hours will expand during the summer months.

For the past year, city leaders have been pulling several policy levers to improve Louisville’s Internet access and attract high-speed providers such as Google Fiber.

Metro Council, for instance, approved a pair of measures this month that condense the franchise agreement process and give ultra-fast Internet service providers easier access to utility poles to install their equipment.

“I hope this is the first of another stop to free Wi-Fi in west Louisville,” said Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton. “This opportunity is just too great to not have it everywhere, accessible to everyone.”

Each bin location costs $4,000 and is being paid through philanthropic grants rather than city general funds, according to Ted Smith, the city’s innovation chief.

Rather than connecting to existing infrastructure the Big Belly trash dispensers use batteries powered by the sun.

“We’re really eager now that we’re not bound in every case to what wires we can connect to, to find other places in the community that could benefit these autonomous points,” Smith said.

Asked about the security of these open access points, Smith said the city is using a special firewall system for the Big Belly units to keep users data safe. He said that is consistent with what they are doing at other public spaces such as libraries and community centers.

Last September, the Fischer administration used an $11,000 Bloomberg Philanthropies grant to widen Wi-Fi service at three Russell neighborhood locations such as America’s Finest Filters, 2910 W. Jefferson St., that emits an Internet radius of about 200 feet of coverage.

The city purchased Internet service through August 2016 that Fischer officials say nearly 1,000 people have used more than 100 GB of data.

Smith’s office is looking for additional opportunities to install other access points but the city is still looking for a group or businesses to takeover that contract before the access agreement expires later this year.

“What we’re doing as a city is looking to the community and asking any interested parties who could operate such a network,” Smith said. “Really we do need at some point in time to turn this over to a community-based organization … whoever is going to be a good caretaker of this community resource.”

Source: Courier Journal, by Phillip M. Bailey (@phillipmbailey)
http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/metro-government/2016/02/17/fischer-unveil-more-free-west-end-wi-fi/80476260/