Free Wi-Fi downtown sounds like a good idea

Less than two months after sounding off on Google’s attempt to make one lucky city a hyper-speed Internet hot spot, the city of Burlington will pay for wireless Internet in its downtown area. The Wi-Fi will be free to those who visit downtown and is another step in an effort to try and get people downtown.

The free wireless Internet will cover a 15-block area downtown and seems like a good idea, but I’m not quite sold yet.

Since there is still almost nothing to do downtown, therefore no reason to go there, why would people need Wi-Fi in that area? The city council says it will allow people to connect while shopping and dining downtown. I question where they can do these things.

There aren’t many restaurants downtown, which would without a doubt be the easiest way to boost foot traffic to that section of town. So, is the city really going to spend all this money for Wi-Fi that will just be used by preexisting downtown businesses?

From what I can tell from the proposed Wi-Fi zone, which will be available in early June, the Times-News’ office is inside the area. We have our own wireless Internet available in our office building already, but using our office as an example, what would stop us from cancelling our service and using the Wi-Fi? We could save a lot of money in doing so, but obviously we will not because there would be some ethical issues with using the signal. Who is to say that some other smaller business might not do the same?

I see this as a possible incentive to get business to move downtown, but I don’t think free Internet is going to entice new business enough to get them to move to the area. In fact, I just see people and business that are already downtown using it. So, if you frequent the fewer than a dozen restaurants downtown then I am sure you are thrilled that you can now surf the Web on your laptop or mobile phone. But, if you’re like the majority of Burlington’s residents, then you might be questioning the $75,000 it costs to set up the Wi-Fi service.

This plan isn’t all question marks, though, because Wi-Fi will also be available in City Park which is a popular destination for people from all over the area. This is a great move for residents who will have free Internet access in the park even though the primary reason for having Wi-Fi is to create another hot spot for police to park and complete paperwork in their patrol cars.

I am a huge advocate for free Internet access, which is why I was a such a big supporter of Google’s community high-speed Internet project. There is so much information and knowledge out on the Web and I feel that everyone should have access to it. Having Internet in your home can be expensive and many can’t afford it, but many cities and towns across the country have begun providing it to their residents.

I am not against Wi-Fi in downtown Burlington by any means, I just question why other parts of the city shouldn’t get the same reward. In a perfect world, we would all be able to connect from anywhere, for free.


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