Tourists and residents are soaking up free Wi-Fi that became available a few months ago in downtown Durango.
The network averages 100-150 unique users per day, and during the Taste of Durango, that number shot up to 500, said Eric Pierson, information services manager for the city.
While it’s off to a good start, the city and private businesses anticipate even more usage as tourist season kicks into full gear and informational signs are placed around town alerting residents and tourists to the free connection.
In 2013, the city installed fiber-optic lines up and down Main Avenue with three purposes in mind: to provide a public Wi-Fi network; provide the so-called “last mile” of fiber optics to downtown businesses; and for future government uses, including linking parking meters to the fiber.
The city partnered with SkyWerx Internet Services and 360Durango.com to complete the free public Wi-Fi component. At a cost of $70,000, SkyWerx installed 21 access points from Seventh Street to 13th Street, while 360Durango.com handles the advertising and overall user experience.
When wireless users log onto the network, they are greeted with a welcome page prompting them to agree to the terms and conditions and connect. Users are then shown an advertisement that displays for about 10 seconds before taking them to another page that has links to Durango coupons and events, both of which are sponsored by 360Durango.com. Or users can click “No thanks. Go online,” and be connected to the internet.
Paul Eckenrode, owner of 360Durango.com, said click-throughs, or “engagement,” is about 35 times higher than the industry standard for advertising, meaning users are clicking on the advertisements.
“We are achieving the objective that we set out to do, which is making extremely relevant, timely messaging from our advertisers to our users,” Eckenrode said. “In other words, it’s not annoying, it’s really helpful.”
Eckenrode said he believes there are more users than what is being reported, but he declined to release his own numbers, saying it’s proprietary. He also declined to say how many businesses are advertising on the city’s free Wi-Fi network. This week, advertisers included Brown’s Shoe Fit Co., Nature’s Oasis and the Sky Ute Casino, which is promoting a concert.
“The value of this advertising is really hard to beat because we’re on mobile devices when people are out and about and emotionally receptive to the content that a lot of our advertisers would be interested in offering,” he said.
Internet speeds are fast enough to stream video, but download speeds are capped at 20 megabytes per second. The signal is strong at street corners but tends to degrade about a half block away from Main Avenue. The service can be accessed from inside most Main Avenue businesses, but users have to be near the front of the store or restaurant to receive the signal. Part of that is by design, said Justin Davis, director of wireless technology for SkyWerx.
“Some of the businesses provide their own internet service, and we wanted to make sure that there was no conflict of interest there,” he said.
The network blocks Hulu, Netflix and pornography sites, but YouTube was left open.
“It’s not intended for people to sit downtown and watch movies,” Davis said. “We want them to go online, have an experience and be able to see what is going on with all the events downtown.”
No analysis has been done to determine which websites are being visited by people using the downtown Wi-Fi.
SkyWerx plans to improve the signal in the 500 block of Main Avenue near the train depot and install more access points at Buckley Park to host more devices. And at some point, the city plans to extend Wi-Fi to East Second Avenue, Pierson said.
The network is designed to allow users to hop from one access point to the next seamlessly without any disruption in service.
“I think there’s a lot more that could be done to drive more usage,” Pierson said. “Hopefully, with these Durango Wi-Fi signs downtown, I think that could go a long ways toward driving more use.”