by Will Bryant

CORNELIUS – Cornelius established itself as a town government ahead of the curve when it began cutting costs by supplying town commissioners with Ipads nearly a month ago. Now the Board of Commissioners could expand on that reputation if it decides to move forward with a plan to provide Cornelius with town-wide Wi-Fi.

The board discussed the idea in a workshop Monday, Aug. 1, and heard a presentation from Wi-Fi provider Double Radius, detailing the functions, costs and benefits of the wireless system.

Based outside of Charlotte, Double Radius is a company that specializes in providing businesses and municipalities with expansive high-speed Internet. Since 2001, Double Radius has provided nearly 20 municipalities with a network like the one being proposed in Cornelius.

“It’s becoming not about whether you do it, but when you’re going to do it,” Double Radius representative Wade Chestnut said. “It’s something people are coming to expect as an amenity.”

While the town could make the system available for public use, Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle said he hopes to use the wireless system primarily to improve the town’s existing network of surveillance cameras.

Currently, the police department uses four digital cameras within town limits to monitor sites for drug sales and other illegal activity. But the cost of getting the video from the camera back to the police is nearly as expensive as the price of one of the cameras themselves, Hoyle said.

Double Radius said its system would eliminate those repetitive costs. But Double Radius’ one-time installment fee will likely cost the town about $300,000, plus the occasional maintenance fee.

Switching to the wireless system would also eliminate the need for air cards every year, thus saving the town nearly $15,000 a year. Air cards, much like phone cards you would buy for your laptop, are a critical component that allows officers to connect to the network of their dispatch center, Hoyle said.

But the benefits of the proposed system extend financial savings, Double Radius officials argued. The system would substantially increase the presence of the police department, allowing the department to expand its system of cameras to public sites around the community. And Cornelius police officers could monitor those cameras from anywhere in the designated network.

Hoyle even envisions citizens having access to the camera network from their computers and phone, creating what he called a “virtual Community Watch” program.

“If an officer can watch spots from his patrol car, why can’t a family watch it from their house?” Hoyle asked.

The system would also allow First Responders and emergency crews the ability to pull up floor plans and blue prints en route to a burning building or crime scene. This would allow professional rescuers to get to the right place at the right time and possibly save lives, Chestnut said.

Beyond safety, Double Radius representatives said the Wi-Fi system could be opened up for use by the public as well. Not only would the proposed network attract business and tourism to the area, but it would also increase the value of properties in surrounding neighborhoods, Chestnut said.

Some on the board, however, expressed concerns with the proposed system.

Commissioner Dave Gilroy questioned if the Wi-Fi network could truly reach all parts of Cornelius, and if not, would the department have to keep paying air cards. That prompted Commission Jim Bensman to wonder if Cornelius officers will lose service if they pursue a suspect into another jurisdiction or another town calls them for  help.

However, from the look on the faces of those in the meeting, the benefits seemed to vastly outweigh the drawbacks. Mayor Jeff Tarte seemed fully behind the proposed system as he brought to light his visions for keeping the town of Cornelius on the forefront of technology.

Citing his town’s recent exposure in The New York Times for the board’s switch from paper agendas to sleek, efficient iPads, Tarte asked board members to envision a Town Hall that is completely paperless, digitizing everything from agendas to mail.

“How cool would it be to be ahead of the curve?” he asked the board with a smile. “That’s just something to think about.”