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Nature left ‘alone’ in multi-park Albany Wi-Fi plan

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Two men walk through Washington Park. Photo by: Tyler A. McNeil / Upstate Courier

ALBANY — Free Wi-Fi is coming to select Albany parks, but don’t expect a strong signal on paths, hills, and open fields.

Some areas in Washington Park, Swinburne Park, and Lincoln Park will have free wireless internet provided by Albany Public Library come spring. Green space, however, will remain out of range by design.

“I don’t want to provide Wi-Fi to a walking path,” said Scott Jarzombek, executive director of Albany Public Library. “I think sometimes people need to unplug.”

In coordination with Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s office, the initiative is intended to increase internet access for poor residents while sparing green space from digital disturbance. 

Potential Wi-Fi spots include Washington Park’s skate park and playhouse; the Lincoln Park Pool; Bleecker Stadium near Swinburne Park.

“It’s parts of the park where people already congregate and there’s activity,” Jarzombek said. “We want to leave alone parts of the park that is there for people to enjoy nature.”

Jarzombek hopes for the service by early spring. He declined to provide a more specific estimate.

Albany Public Library planned to install free Wi-Fi for at least one of the parks this year, but unexpected staff turnover halted development.

Park internet access has been in the works for nearly half a decade. The step is in line with Albany’s city-wide broadband study started back in 2016.

City officials are currently examining the possibility “smart node” technology in upcoming streetlight upgrades can provide free Wi-Fi citywide. 

For now, bringing free internet to the parks “will help us as we continue to work toward closing the digital divide, especially in some of our most historically underserved communities,” Mayor Kathy Sheehan said in a statement.

Albany has 14 parks, several of which lie in poor neighborhoods. While hoping to expand the program to more parks down the road, the current three are within budgetary means and would require minimal infrastructural adjustments to install.

The library projects equipment costs within $5,000 of next year’s budget. The library already purchased some equipment, remains from this year’s unbecoming installation.

With negotiations between the library, FirstLight Fiber, and Spectrum underway, it’s not yet certain how much service will cost overall.

It’s also not clear if park bandwidth will be dovetailed with the library’s current plan, which provides 1,000 MBps, or arranged separately in a final deal.

Come what may, library officials expect free internet available around the clock at select parks.