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Lancaster village officials in talks with wireless carrier for free Wi-Fi in business district

Sipping a latte while enjoying free Internet access in Lancaster’s downtown business district soon could be in the offing.

Village officials are in preliminary talks with Blue Wireless as they consider whether to strike a deal in which the carrier would offer free Wi-Fi in Lancaster’s Central Avenue business district and extend it down part of Broadway.

Blue Wireless is looking to expand its cellular network in the Lancaster area and is looking to negotiate an arrangement with the village for a 50-by-50-foot chunk of vacant land in the village’s industrial park along Beech Avenue.

Under the agreement, Blue Wireless would lease the land for a cellular tower in the village’s industrial park and the village’s business district would get free Wi-Fi.

Wireless service could stretch down Central Avenue to Erie Street and would be included in the village government’s North End Fire Hall, the Municipal Building and Department of Public Works offices.

Trustee William C. Schroeder began exploring the idea a few months ago, thinking that it would be a hit with residents, shoppers and the business owners in the district. The service would work in any business in that area of the village and during festivals, such as the July 4 celebration, when people could use their smartphones without tapping into their data plans.

“I think this would be a fantastic thing for the village. The timing is perfect,” Schroeder said Monday after the Village Board discussed the possibility during a work session. “They want to give us this, and we’re also trying to redevelop West Main Street and that would be a good selling point.”

The arrangement would mirror recent wireless offerings in other local municipalities.

Years ago, the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce used a grant to offer limited wireless service in the business district. But when the Chamber relocated its offices from Central Avenue, the necessary equipment wasn’t moved and the service dwindled and hasn’t been available for the last four years.

Schroeder and village technology consultant Joseph M. Ligammare, the village’s fire chief, said the village would not face any upfront costs since the carrier planned to provide $60,000 worth of equipment.

It could be a revenue generator for the village.

“Business owners love it. It draws people,” Ligammare said. “It gives you something else to draw people down to the business district and gives wireless service to people like Buffalo did for Niagara Square and is expanding at Canalside.”

Schroeder said the village is currently getting nothing from the vacant piece of land and would be wise to negotiate an attractive lease arrangement, particularly where the company is willing to pay for the wireless infrastructure.

Preliminary information from Blue Wireless is encouraging, he said. “It’s not financially feasible for the village to buy all this stuff,” he said. “This is a no-brainer to me. In today’s environment, I see this as a great thing.”

Trustee Kenneth L. O’Brien III said he wanted to know cost figures and what the income stream would be to the village in terms of a lease with Blue Wireless.

email: krobinson@buffnews.com