Springfield to Build High-Speed Internet Network, Spring Net

Posted on Thursday, October 4 2007 by Heather Brandon

Mayor Ryan and others at a press event. Photo by H BrandonAt a press conference today, Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan, Police Commissioner Edward Flynn, board members of the non-profit Springfield Media and Telecommunications Group and others were on hand to announce a new Internet network to be built in the city to serve a number of functions, initially enhanced public safety.

The SMTG, which receives annual funding of about $320,000 from Comcast, is providing $2 million toward the effort, called Spring Net.

The first service of Spring Net will be the installation of about 50 new surveillance cameras downtown and in neighborhoods within reach of a specific geographic loop of existing fiber optic network. Within the next four months, Mayor Ryan said he anticipates that ten to 15 of these cameras will be installed, starting in the downtown area. The remaining 40 or so will be placed in other locations yet to be determined. The cameras are expected to enhance the ability of police to respond to public safety problems more effectively.

The funding will also make possible, early in 2008, the implementation of a new gunshot detection system, which Commissioner Flynn said is very new to New England cities. Boston is the only other municipality using such a new system, he said.

Bill Seretta of Portland, Maine-based WhatIf Networks said the gunshot detection system will enable police to pinpoint locations of gunshots as well as numbers of shots fired with much-increased accuracy.

Bill Seretta, center, with Mayor Ryan. Photo by H Brandon

The system uses sensitive microphones placed some distance above-ground at least streetlamp height, varying according to location, the built environment, and other factors. The microphones will immediately transmit audio information when loud bangs are detected, within 15 seconds of shots fired, for instance.

The gunshot detection system will cover about two square miles of Springfield in half-square-mile sections, which is the smallest area the microphones can allow. “It’s going to be about 35 very specialized microphones that have a wireless connection back into the network,” Seretta explained. “When something happens, when they hear the bang, within 15 seconds they calculate through triangulation, and they record the gunshots as well.” Gunshot recordings will enable investigators to sort out irregularities in witness reports, Seretta indicated.

In determining the proper location for the microphones, Seretta said, a specialized team of engineers will examine areas selected by Commissioner Flynn. “The software built in will take care of echoes and false alarms,” he said. Will everything the system picks up be gunshots? “No. This is not 100 percent, much like there are false fire alarms. But the majority of the time it will pick it up and give you the location, down to the address.”

Bill Seretta talks to the press at City Hall. Photo by H BrandonSeretta (pictured), who described himself as the contractor for the Spring Net project, recently completed work at American International College installing a wireless Internet network there, including 150 access points and a new wire fiber network over a period of about four months. “We took them from little or no technology into one of the most advanced campuses in western Massachusetts, if not in New England,” he said.

In the spring, the project will include an upgrade to high-speed wireless access in the city’s police cruisers. It will also benefit other city departments, such as building inspectors while they are in the field, who will have laptop access to the network; or public works employees trying to pinpoint problem locations in a speedy fashion. The Fire Department, Parks Department and School Department are likewise expected to benefit from the new network; officials indicated that upgrading Internet access for the entire city’s schools could be on the near horizon. By this time next year, many city departments will see the fruits of the project.

“Using cameras and communication to other vehicles,” Seretta said of other departmental applications, “public works particularly, when they put their inspectors out, they can move data [immediately online] instead of doing it at the end of the day. They can view, say, the downtown during a snowstorm, deploy plows if they see some problems, or even go down to streetlights and change some of the signals on the lights if need be. They’ll have another eye available to them anytime.”

At the SMTG's City Hall press event. Photo by H BrandonThe Emergency Preparedness Department will also benefit, Seretta continued. Cameras won’t be at every site the department focuses on, but if and when camera access is needed for certain areas, it will available. “All of these things play multiple roles,” he added. The system is easy to expand, he said, and the entire city could eventually receive such coverage.

“The fiber will be ten gigabit; the switches will be one gig,” Seretta said of the network to be installed. “Right now, the switches on any network, the max you get is one gig anyway. The key about the fiber backbone is that we’re going to be putting a lot of traffic on it, so there will be no reduction in speed or anything else because of it. We’ve got more bandwidth than we know what to do with here. And we can grow into it. You don’t build it so you outgrow it. The fiber doesn’t control effectively how much volume; it’s the switches at each end.”

He added that the city saves money by “buying bandwidth in bulk” like this, not unlike what some area colleges have done recently.

The area to receive the network includes existing fiber along the State Street corridor up to Roosevelt Avenue, and will be enhanced with additional coverage stretching northeast from downtown, north of I-291 near St. James Avenue, reaching back southeast toward Roosevelt.

4 Responses to “Springfield to Build High-Speed Internet Network, Spring Net”

  1. chuck

    This is a great idea but it would be good to do more and follow some other cities that have provided wireless service for the whole city. We need to begin thinking about internet access as like the public library, something that every city needs as a way for those without wealth to get access to the ideas and knowledge that the modern world requires.

  2. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    The idea of providing wireless service citywide is something the SMTG evidently hoped to be able to implement. Last summer, in cooperation with the city, the non-profit engaged a private company in a study of the feasibility of such a project.

    The study has not been released to the public, but the informal word was that the results showed that such a project is actually somewhat infeasible for Springfield right now. The reasons behind that would be interesting to examine, but then there is plenty else to do besides ponder and muse on things that were recommended be laid aside for now.

    Springfield does have a great library system that could potentially be boosted with Spring Net Internet access, and of course with the schools better networked there are ways the public (and especially the children) will benefit from these infrastructure investments in the near term.

    Down the road, maybe what used to be regarded as infeasible will be seen as feasible, whatever reasons contribute to that measurement.

  3. Sheila McElwaine

    The Springfield Library Department’s FY08/FY09 Action Plan calls for “expanded wireless internet access to East Springfield, Sixteen Acres and Forest Park Branches” by December 2007 for East Springfield and Sixteen Acres and April 2008 for Forest Park.

  4. Heather Brandon http://urbancompass.net

    That’s just a couple of months away. Great to know.

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