The Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, the City of Bishop and the Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Office are collaborating to bring a free Wi-Fi zone to downtown Bishop for the benefit of merchants, students and the city, as well as tourists and visitors.
The Request for Proposals for iMain Street, which is the brainchild of Chamber Vice President Angie Aukee, has already gone out to bid, funding sources have been identified and it is hoped that the county’s largest free Wi-Fi zone will be up and running in early 2014.
Once it’s available, iMain Street will allow people who are downtown or in the park to “check email, surf the web, watch YouTube and do things like live-stream the Mule Days parade. There won’t be enough bandwidth available to watch high-definition movies, but the public should be able to do all the basics,” Aukee explained. And while the coverage area won’t reach residences and the network won’t be of the type on which business could operate, Mule Days vendors in the park “could utilize the Wi-Fi network to conduct credit card transactions via applications such as Square.”
Aukee conceived iMain Street a few years ago at a Chamber retreat “as a way of attracting tourists who want to stay connected and of promoting business and tourism in Bishop,” she said. After the board adopted iMain Street, Chamber Treasurer Julie Faber, who is also the Coso Operating Company public relations manager and owner/web designer of Mountain Studio, began searching for partners for the endeavor, Aukee said. “However, there wasn’t much momentum until City Administrator Keith Caldwell got involved. He had the insight to pair the Chamber’s desire to create a free public Wi-Fi network with Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer’s desire to provide Internet connectivity for local students,” Aukee explained.
The superintendent’s office has committed to paying for the infrastructure and start-up costs. The Chamber plans to fund the ongoing monthly service and maintenance costs by selling rotating business ads on its website, starting with the iMain Street portal where users will have to agree to terms and conditions before logging on. At that point, users will be able to surf the ’net – do some “information and intelligence sharing,” which is what the “i” in iMain Street stands for, Aukee explained.
Aukee said she drafted the iMain Street RFP “drawing from the RFPs of other cities that had already implemented similar projects. Many individuals in the community graciously lent their expertise to defining the project” including Faber, NIH Network Administrator Justin Norcross, Praxis Associates Outreach Coordinator Cliff Beddingfield, computer consultant and Inyo County Board of Education member David Hefner, Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Computer/Network Specialist Gary Hampton and Public Works Director Dave Grah.
On Nov. 13, the RFP was sent to four interested local service providers and was published in The Inyo Register, Aukee said. The proposal due date is Sunday, Dec. 1. The RFP requests information about items such as cost over a three-year period; network design; coverage area; security and maintenance; service levels, i.e. speed; and performance guarantees.
At a Wednesday, Dec. 18 meeting, the proposals that are received will be reviewed and scored by a committee of Chamber members, McAteer and his IT staff, and city officials. It is hoped that a selection will be made by Tuesday, Dec. 31 and that iMain Street will be live by the end of first quarter of 2014, Aukee said.
Caldwell said, “The city essentially sees this as an economic opportunity,” as yet another reason for travelers to stop and patronize local merchants or even stay for the night. Free Wi-Fi, as advertised on city entrance highway signs and other mediums, would attract more sales and bed tax revenue for the city, he said. Not only that, “let’s say you run a pack station and don’t have a presence on Main Street. When a visitor pulls up the Chamber-run network, you do,” Aukee said.
As NIH community development director, Aukee sees the “need to get local patients, especially seniors, connected to wellness information data on the Health Information Exchange” once NIH has an HIE account. Patients and the general public will then be able to access crucial information about illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
McAteer said he partnered with the iMain Street venture because he sees it as a way to ensure that every student has access to the Internet. During the 2012-13 school year, the Superintendent’s Office began distributing iPod Touches and laptops to students for use in school and at home. “By August 2015, all K-12 students in Inyo County will have personal computing devices,” McAteer said. Downtown and at the park, students will be able to do homework and research, write more and at an earlier age and, in general, “elevate their academic level, which could translate into elevated test scores and more kids going to college.”
Elevated academic levels for students, increased sales tax revenue for the city and increased business for local merchants make iMain Street a win-win all the way around, McAteer said.