Verizon Makes Pitch to Bring Free Wi-Fi, Increased Cell Service to Belmar’s Beachfront

Verizon proposes to install 22 nodes on new light poles it will erect along Ocean Avenue, as part of a plan to provide the borough’s beachfront with free wireless and enhanced cellular service. Credits: Cathy Goetz

BELMAR, NJ — Verizon wants to bring free wireless and enhanced cellular service to the Belmar beachfront as early as Memorial Day.

Under a proposal presented to the Belmar Council on January 17, the “trial project” would be the first of its kind in United States for the telecommunications giant, which plans to invest $4 million in the effort, according to company officials.

The coverage area would include Belmar’s entire 1.3-mile oceanfront, including the water up to the surf break, as well as the boardwalk and Ocean Avenue, and extending westbound to about A Street.

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In order to have the project completed by Memorial Day, Verizon would need the borough's official approval to access its right-of-way by the end of January, according to Robert McGuckin, senior site acquisition manager for Tilson Technology, a Clifton-based authorized representative for Verizon.

The project would entail installing “22 nodes,” which involves replacing every third light pole along Ocean Avenue with one identical in size and style, as well as connecting the system in conduit that is already in place under the boardwalk. The borough would be guaranteed free wireless service for least two years along its beachfront, which is visited by more than 90,000 people each summer.

“Free Wi-Fi is a benefit to the community. This is a heavy investment that Verizon is undertaking,” said McGuckin, explaining that the project would also address cell phone coverage and capacity issues in Belmar, where a massive spike in usage during the summer can cause network slowdowns.

With ongoing breakthroughs in wireless technology, the project could pave the way for advanced capabilities to monitor traffic, issue emergency alerts, provide real-time traffic routing, and implement “smart lighting and parking” systems, McGuckin added.

John Szeliga, director of external affairs for Verizon and a former Belmar councilman, recommended Belmar for the initiative, which could become a “backbone for 5G”—the next level of wireless connectivity. “Verizon is getting their toes wet with the trial project, which is the first in the country,” he said.

Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty said that providing free beachfront Wi-Fi could place Belmar “on the cutting edge” of the technology as a community benefit, but without the substantial cost. “For us to do this, looking at the way Verizon wants to do this, costs a lot of money,” he said. “We don’t have that type of money to invest in something like this and do it the right way, where if we can get Verizon to install it for free for our residents and visitors, that’s a home run.”

Doherty, borough council members and borough attorney Gregory Cannon are currently reviewing the proposal, which stipulates that New York City-based Verizon will provide Belmar with a two-year minimum of free wireless service along the beachfront — with terms to be evaluated at the end of that period, McGuckin said.

In addition, SQF, a Tilson subsidiary that is a competitive local exchange carrier, would retain access rights to the oceanfront light poles for 40 years.

Doherty said the borough needs to be assured that the project has a “positive effect today and going forward" for the Belmar community.

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