The first wave of residents can now access free wireless Internet service in Shenandoah.
The city has launched Shenandoah Wireless Interface Technology, or SWIFT.

Residents who live along Holly Hill Drive will be the first with the service, and other areas of the city will follow. "We are pleased to be one of the first communities to offer wireless Internet service to residents at no charge,"" Shenandoah City Administrator Chip VanSteenberg said in an announcement of the service.

The initial service started Nov. 26, providing access to 168 homes. Monday, service was made available to another 144 homes. By Dec. 17, availability is expected for every single-family home in Shenandoah west of Interstate 45. Installation of the wireless service hasn't been without some static. In order to continue wireless network installation, WaveMedia recently asked the city council for $54,000 to purchase eight more service transmission radios. Each is priced at $6,750.

The request drew a reprimand by Mayor Becky Altemus, who said she was frustrated by changes to plans for the original arrangement.
WaveMedia's original estimate was that 18-22 radios would be needed to provide wireless coverage to all Shenandoah homes. The projected cost was to be $187,849 for the system, plus an additional $79,820 annually for maintenance. Shenandoah will be paying about $83,000 annually for the maintenance and operations costs of running the system. Altemus also said she was concerned by an initial assertion by WaveMedia officials that they would be able to install the Wi-Fi network radios on poles owned by utility provider Entergy.

That assertion was a key determining factor for the city to enter into an agreement with WaveMedia. Permission was never granted by Entergy, so the city waited with a dated agreement while the project remained on hold. City officials finally decided to install poles on their own, and WaveMedia soon came to them for money up front, something the city wasn't going to do, Altemus said. ""Obviously we're at a point now where we can't turn back,"" Altemus said. ""I'm not happy with what you guys have done. I'm not happy with what you guys have put us through. I think you've done a real disservice to (the) council and to our residents at this point, and I hope now that we're online that it gets a whole lot better.""

WaveMedia President Carl Merzi said several factors, including the density of trees in Shenandoah, contributed to the need for more wireless transmission radios and assured city officials. ""We've done quite a few things to improve (coverage),"" Merzi said. ""We wanted to make sure this is it. Shenandoah has begun holding town hall meetings to help residents learn about the technology and how to access it from their homes. In addition, packets of information are being sent to residents.""

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