COLUMBIA — Visitors to downtown Columbia will have access to free wireless Internet outdoors as early as May, but the service could only be temporary.
Free Wi-Fi will be available downtown along Broadway from Fourth Street to Hitt Street and on Ninth Street between Ash Street and University Avenue, as well as at Flat Branch Park and Courthouse Square.
"Instead of sitting in the office, visitors can go out to the park to work from their laptops, smartphones and tablets," said Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District.
Last year, the district campaigned for a half-cent sales tax in the downtown area that won voter approval, and one of the promises made was free outdoor Wi-Fi. But after some internal controversy questioning the need for the service, the community improvement district decided to try a six-month pilot project to test user demand.
Christina Kelley, the owner of Makes Scents on Ninth Street and a member of the downtown district's board, has supported the project.
"In Columbia we have visitors come from all over the country and they may not know their way around," Kelley said. "Not everyone has an unlimited data plan, having Wi-Fi available can help them navigate the downtown area using mapping applications and can direct them to businesses they are searching for."
Gartner expects the pilot project will end in October, if it's up and running in May.
Then, the board that governs the downtown district will examine data from the service provider to gauge whether visitors use the service enough to justify the cost. Costs are estimated at $30,000 for the initial installation and an additional $30,000 in annual operating expenses to continue the service and expand it into other parts of downtown.
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