For the past few months, our local news sources have been abuzz with news about the Main Street Wi-Fi Corridor. Launched as Buffalo Connect on July 14th, City of Light 2.0 decided to test the real world implications.

Below are some basic questions your average netizen might have about the network, access, and availability we wanted to address right off the bat in this first post. Following posts will go into more depth and technicality, for those who are curious.




September 8th, 2015:

Since we published this first article in early August, a lot of things have changed with Buffalo Connect. A number of the answers we provided are no longer accurate. We are creating a full comprehensive FAQ that will reflect these updates. We will be posting it in our resource section soon.



What Do I need To Connect?

Any computer, phone, or tablet that has WiFi should be able to connect to the "Buffalo Connect" network.

Where Can I Connect?

The network extends along Main Street from around North Street (where the Anchor Bar is):


all the way down to the the First Niagara Center:


We were able to connect to the network a little beyond that. But the signal got weaker and weaker from there.

The only place not on Main St., where we were able to connect was Canal Side. We didn't go in depth for a map of the area but will do so and update our analysis regarding this coverage area when we do.

How Fast is it?

As this indicates, the realistic speeds on the network are pretty slow. It may be good for checking your email, messaging your friends, or browsing wikipedia.

What bout streaming movies?

The service is much too slow to stream any type of video through services like YouTube, NetFlix, Hulu etc. In fact media streaming services including NetFlix, Hulu and other services such as FaceTime or Skype Video Conferencing are strictly prohibited as set forth in the terms of service.

Why are the speeds so slow?

This starts to get a little more technical, and will be addressed in further detail in parts 2 and 3 of this blog post series.

Do I have To Be On Main St?

From the looks of it yes, unless your within Canal Side. As soon as we veered East or West of Main Street for more than a few hundred feet the connection cut out almost immediately.

We didn't go in depth for a map of the Canal Side coverage area but will do so and update the answer to this when we do.

Is the network secure?

Buffalo Connect is a free and open public network. Like at any other public WiFi spot, the data is not encrypted. So be careful about transmitting any type of sensitive information.

Who provides the internet connection?

Buffalo Connect is facilitated by the University at Buffalo's fiber-optic network. See the map of their network here. Every WiFi connection that is being broadcast is still connected to a physical, wired, connection in the ground. More and faster wired connections, like fiber, means services like the WiFi Corridor can increase their coverage area as well as the quality of the service they are offering. So even though you are not connecting directly to fiber when you use the Corridor, you still rely on the faster speed it provides.

How Can My Business Use Buffalo Connect?

When Buffalo Connect was announced it was stated that it was to be used by essentially anyone within range.

"By providing city residents, members of the business community and visitors with free public Wi-Fi, we will continue to attract more people and business to downtown Main Street....” (https://www.ci.buffalo.ny.us/Mayor/Home/Leadership....)

However in the terms of use on the list of prohibited uses commercial usage is forbidden.


We're not sure what this means for the business community but its interesting Buffalo Connect has been advertised for businesses but such isn't allowed in the terms of service.

Beyond these basic questions, what do we think of the Main Street Wi-Fi Corridor?

Well... it's a start.

Buffalo Connect could stand to be improved significantly. For one, the speeds are pretty atrocious. Considering Buffalo Connect is tied into UB's fiber network, it has a lot more potential than it currently demonstrates.

Also, there's no draw anyone with a cellular plan to connect to it. Maybe you'd want to keep yourself within the limits of your cellular data plan? Though even that seems like a stretch, considering you're trading off significant speed as a consequence.

By significant speed (see our previous posting about speed here), we mean that using our carrier's LTE, we were able to get over 30 megabits download speed and 5 megabits upload speed. While connected to Buffalo Connect we were only able to achieve around 1 megabit down and a few hundred kilobits up.

That said, though, while writing this article we did connect to the Main Street Wifi on our laptop, instead of syncing with our phone (that whole data cap thing). So we can see some potential for it there--maybe folks working downtown may come outside on a nice day during a lunch break and play around on their email while connected to the corridor.

Perhaps the true benefit of the Main Street Corridor, however, is for folks that don't have a cellular plan. In that sense, perhaps the Main Street WiFi's true purpose is to help bridge the digital divide. Many folks will forgo paying their phone bill when money is tight, instead of skimping on food, or keeping the heat on. And when they have to come downtown, having free city WiFi is a nice convenience, facilitating access to the internet for those that may have trouble finding any access at all.

In one sense, we're grateful that the corridor serves this purpose. On the other hand, we think it has so much more potential; it can not only help bridge the digital divide, but it could make Main Street an attractive place to hang out again. Almost every Buffalonian knows and feels a level of embarrassment when friends come from out of town and we have to show them our desolate and empty Main Street. If we had zippy Wifi blanketed downtown (easily made possible by a fiber network), we could regain some of our pride by facilitating access for the low-income, drawing more people downtown, and who knows, maybe even spurring some economic development in a part of the region that has been struggling, not inconspicuously, for decades.

But hey, a first step is a first step! We applaud everyone involved with making Buffalo Connect happen. Community networks like the Wifi corridor generate public interest and start to show why fiber access is so important.