COOS BAY — Standing in the heart of downtown, local resident Debbie Peabody used her cellphone to search for the city’s wireless Internet signal.
Starting at the corner of Central Avenue and U.S. Highway 101, she found no signal at all. But about 10 steps away, toward City Hall, she suddenly found a decent signal.
Then, less than a minute later, and without moving another step, she lost the signal completely.
You don’t have to go far to find someone who has experienced the frustration of looking for a strong and steady Wi-Fi signal in downtown Coos Bay. Timm Slater, executive director of the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, has an office on Central and says finding consistent coverage has been an ongoing problem.
City officials acknowledge the problem, and they’re working on a solution.
“The radio equipment has gotten old, and technology has changed over time,” said city Finance Director Susanne Baker. “About a month ago, one of our city councilors brought it up as well; and so we asked our provider, which is ORCA Communications, to check it out, and they have been doing some analysis since that time.”
Five city antennas are situated around the downtown area: the HUB building, Sause Bros., the former BNT building near Sumin’s Restaurant, the fire station and City Hall. Baker, who is overseeing the Wi-Fi upgrade, said ORCA workers inspected the city’s equipment and found some wear and tear.
City Manager Roger Craddock said part of the problem may be the proliferation of private Wi-Fi networks in the downtown area. Where there were only three or four networks when the city started putting up its Wi-Fi antennas about seven years ago, dozens populate downtown these days.
Local residents commonly piggyback off those private networks, such as the one at the Kaffe 101 restaurant.
Next door to Kaffe 101, Barbara Walker, store manager of Oregon Inspirations, said she sees people park and sit in their cars even after the cafe closes for the day. They make no secret of their intent as they park and pull out their laptops. Borrowing the cafe’s Wi-Fi is especially popular during the summer.
Baker said the city hopes to resolve the situation by the end of April.
“It’s just definitely something that when people come to town, the connectivity is a great benefit,” she said.
Technicians are replacing equipment and going site to site to test the signal. Some of the recent improvements didn’t yield the desired signal strength, so they went back to the drawing board.
“They are bringing new equipment back in, upgrading the technology, to get a good signal,” she said.
Officials don’t know yet what the upgrade will cost.
Reporter Tim Novotny can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, at tim.novotny@theworldlink. com, or on Twitter at @novots34.