COLUMBIA — Free wireless Internet service soon will be available at the city’s Flat Branch and Stephens Lake parks.
Local Internet provider iZones submitted a proposal for providing wireless service at the parks, which the City Council approved Dec. 1. The company estimates the service will be in place by late winter or early spring. That will give park staff enough time to install the proper electrical outlets.
Park staff has received several requests for wireless Internet, particularly at Stephens Lake Park, according to a report to the council from Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood. City officials also consider Flat Branch Park an ideal spot because of its downtown location. However, the city would have to create shaded seating areas there because all the benches at Flat Branch are exposed to sunlight, the report said.
Costs for the equipment totals $7,280, which includes $2,740 for Flat Branch and $4,540 for Stephens Lake. iZones has proposed three stations for Flat Branch and four for Stephens Lake Park. The money will come from the city's park maintenance sales tax.
Each station will cost $100 per month for wireless coverage, or a total of $8,400 per year. iZones, however, will cover that cost in exchange for being allowed to advertise on signs in the park.
Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade said that at such a reasonable price, there was no reason to dismiss the idea.
“It will no doubt add a new dimension to the parks, and a positive one at that,” Wade said.
Data Processing Director Robert Simms said in Hood’s report that the use of an independent, private contractor is ideal because of the security issues that come with the city providing free wireless Internet.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said the city has been considering wireless Internet in parks for some time, and that it has been successful in other communities. She thinks the service will be both an asset to parks and helpful to people in difficult economic times.
“This will give the public access to wireless Internet without having to pay,” Hoppe said.
Hoppe said the service also will help attract more public events to the area. She also thinks it will attract students.
“I have always envisioned that students would use Stephens park, and they have. It’s just another possibility for studying,” Hoppe said.
Wade is eager to find out how much use the wireless Internet will get.
“It’s something we will have to find out as we get experience with it,”he said.
Park staff will install signs indicating that wireless Internet is available in the parks. The city also has tentatively agreed to allow iZones to advertise the service on signs in exchange for the free Internet connection.