Friday, Aug. 21
PITTSFIELD -- Calling it another facet in economic development, a free public wireless network is up and running in a swath of downtown Pittsfield.

"Downtown Pittsfield has gone wireless," Michael Supranowicz declared Thursday.

The president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Supranowicz spoke at a news conference at the Central Block building, 75 North St., where one of four nodes, or antennas, are set up to provide free wireless service downtown.

The other antennas are in the Wright Building, 239-261 North St.; BBE Office Interiors, 122 North St.; and the Greylock Federal Credit Union's headquarters, 100 West St.

Their locations enable businesses, residents and visitors Internet access along North Street between Park Square and Union Street, and along West Street between Park Square and the credit union's headquarters.

A fifth antenna is coming but its location hasn't been selected. "One more business on North Street is very interested in that node," Supranowicz said.

The wireless zone is marked by signs that say "Unwired Village," the name of the Cape Cod-based nonprofit that collaborated on the project with the Berkshire Chamber. Two signs are in front of the Central Block, and the others will go up by the end of the week.

Supranowicz said 28 visitors were logged on the Central Block's node at 10 a.m., an hour before the official announcement took place.

"So people already know that the system exists," he said.

"Although we have more to do downtown, I think that this is the kind of touch that continues to spark the energy and the efforts that are going to go on," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.

The project is underwritten by Greylock Federal Credit Union, which spent $3,500 to acquire the equipment. Every business that has invested in an antenna is pays an additional monthly fee to maintain the DSL line.

"The idea of downtown Pittsfield having a hotspot where you could flip open your laptop and do various things would have been unthinkable seven years ago because there was no one coming downtown seven years ago," said John Bissell, the vice president of the Greylock Federal Credit Union. "Now, this makes sense. It's time."

Unwired Village, which has created similar wireless access zones in the Cape towns of Falmouth and Orleans, is funded by a grant from the John Adams Innovation Institute, which is part of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The nonprofit combines with business and government institutions to provide free wireless access zones in public places.

Supranowicz said the chamber discovered Unwired Village in 2007 when a committee was formed to explore downtown wireless options at the same time the city was developing a similar capacity for all municipal buildings.

A security measure that is built into the system allows the Chamber to limit access to the wireless network if concerns are raised about user traffic, Supranowicz said. Users are required to create a free password to log onto the network, but initial access is limited until the user's e-mail address can be validated.

"It gives a little more sense of security for people like us that have paid for that line," he said.