It’s been almost three years since the town of Walton began offering free Internet access.
A 65-foot tower behind the Walton library allowed nearly every person in town to log on to the Internet from home beginning July 2010.
It was a groundbreaking venture for a small town in Indiana.
Free Wi-Fi access is the sort of thing you might find in much larger communities. It puts Walton in the company of places such as Seattle, where the University of Washington campus announced a plan to offer widespread wireless access in 2005, or Atlanta, which announced plans for a citywide wireless network in 2003.
Clearly, Walton is not San Francisco or Austin, Texas, or any of the other large cities with widespread wireless access, but this project is an example of what a small community can accomplish when its residents join together with a common goal.
The project wasn’t terribly expensive. The startup cost for the system, including electronics, was about $7,000. Several groups, including the Walton & Tipton Township Library, Walton Main Street and town officials, came together to pay for it. Supporters even conducted garage sales and other fundraisers.
Walton’s former library director Gordon Southern, who has been assisting in the office since his retirement June 30, said the community has quadrupled its initial bandwidth capacity with a fourth T1 line in June. That additional line has mostly eliminated wireless outages during peak hours of usage, he said. But things still slow down a tad between 3 and 5 p.m. weekdays.
The next step, if the library chooses, would be to install fiber-optic cable. It would retrieve data at speeds as high as 30 times faster than a T1 line. Live-streaming of audio and video likely would be seamless.
But for now, anyone within sight of the transmission tower has access to free, reliable Internet service. Between 75 and 80 percent of the annual $17,700 cost is paid for with federal grants, and the library picks up the rest.
The Walton Wi-Fi project goes beyond utility. It already has set the town apart for individuals looking for a new place to call home. Southern said many new families have moved to Walton since free wireless access was offered, and all pointed to its availability as a factor in their decisions.
Other Kokomo area communities might do well to take notice of Walton’s success in putting this system of Wi-Fi access together.