Waves and Wi-Fi: Jones Beach gets free Internet connection

Jones Beach in Wantagh began offering free Wi-Fi to visitors on Aug. 6, 2014, becoming one of the first New York State parks to provide free connectivity. The service, called Oh, Ranger! Wi-Fi, is part of a pilot program launched through a public-private partnership between State Parks, Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid and American Park Network. (Credit: Ed Betz)

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Waves of Wi-Fi washed over Jones Beach Wednesday, bringing visitors access to a free public Internet connection.

The Oh, Ranger! Wi-Fi network is part of a pilot program to give state parks some technological flair, state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation officials said during a news conference at Jones Beach.

"We need to enhance and protect the historic magnificence of this beach but make it relevant to the 21st century," Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said.

Jones Beach is one of four state parks in the pilot program. The free Internet access also is available at Niagara Falls, the most-visited state park in New York, Saratoga Spa and East River State Park. Combined, the four parks attract more than 18 million visitors annually, Harvey said.

The service, a public-private partnership between the state and Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, allows visitors to anonymously connect from any part of Jones Beach or its boardwalk area, with one restriction.

"Pornographic sites are blocked," said Mark Saferstein, Editor-in-Chief of American Park Network, a publisher of state park visitor guides. Saferstein and the publishing company negotiated the partnership.

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"If you have no connectivity, the park has no ability to put out information," he said.

In order to connect, users must first watch a 15-second Toyota advertisement video. Saferstein would not disclose the amount of money contributed by Toyota.

"I know that many of you come to disconnect, to go to the great outdoors, but it is the 21st century," Harvey said.

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But a Wi-Fi connection gives beachgoers the ability to stream and play music on electronic devices, which could add noise to a beach that banned radios in 1985, Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick) said at the conference.

"I don't think it will make that much of a difference," said Linda Smith, 68, a Queens resident visiting Jones Beach. "I don't mind other people using their phones if they don't create too much noise."

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