By Michelle Ma
Soon you will be able to check your e-mail on the docks in Crescent City Harbor, from a fishing boat tied in the boat basin, or while sitting near shore, listening to a chorus of sea lions bark from the docks.
Wireless Internet service is expected throughout the harbor by the end of this week. Harbor visitors traveling by boat and car, local residents and businesses that lease in the harbor will be able to access this free service.
Officials expect Wi-Fi capabilities to draw more visitors to the harbor, plus benefit existing tenants, patrons and fishermen.
"It's definitely a positive thing, said Patrick Bailey, Board of Harbor Commissioners president. "Every business in the harbor has been waiting for it, and all the boats will have easy access."
Del Norte County has worked with Crescent City Harbor District to complete this project since it began months ago. The county's board of supervisors recognized the importance of wireless service to the harbor and has supported the project from the start, said Dan McCorkle, director of information technology for Del Norte County.
"The county has a desire to help the harbor improve itself," McCorkle said.
The county purchased about $1,500 in equipment and designed the project, while the harbor covered installation and Internet fees.
The goal is to cover the entire harbor with Wi-Fi service, but initial coverage might only extend from the harbor office and north, depending on the strength of individual computer connections, McCorkle said. More repeaters may have to be installed if businesses and patrons in the southern part of the harbor along Anchor Way cannot access Wi-Fi, he added.
"We're just going to activate this system and we'll keep adding as we go," McCorkle said.
By this week all five antennas were working, and a signal is present, though Internet access still isn't available. Charter Communications has made the system live, so the last step this week¬óweather permitting¬óis to route cable to the antennas around the harbor to radiate Internet access throughout the port.
Officials decided to provide basic Wi-Fi service that will accommodate checking e-mail and surfing the Internet. Speeds will be slower to allow more people at any given time to connect, McCorkle said.
Harbor staff will monitor usage and might adjust or add more bandwidth if necessary, Harbormaster Richard Young said.
"Some of this is going to be trial and error," Young said. "I think it's going to be super."
Some businesses that lease in the harbor have been pleased to hear about coming Wi-Fi service, Young said. For certain hospitality places such as RV parks, wireless Internet capabilities are now the norm, he added.
"It's becoming what people expect," Young said. "The quicker we can accommodate that, the better."
For Joni Baugh, owner of South Beach Outfitters in the harbor, wireless Internet access would make a world of difference. Right now, Baugh must operate her surf shop off of one phone line, which serves as the connection for the shop's fax, phone, credit card machine and Internet. It's such a hassle to use the Internet that Baugh usually has to put off online work until she gets home, she said.
"I just don't even deal with the Internet there," Baugh said. "I know (wireless) would certainly be helpful for me."
When designing the reach of this project, the county tried to keep the harbor's wireless signal contained to avoid overlapping with current customers of Charter Communications, McCorkle said. That required installing more low-charged repeaters throughout the harbor instead of one far-reaching antenna.
"We didn't want to provide service where people may already be paying for it that's not on harbor property," McCorkle said.
This spring, the county's Information Technology department will work to provide Wi-Fi service at the airport, McCorkle said.