Columbia residents gain access to free downtown Wi-Fi

Friday, May 24, 2013 | 8:53 p.m. CDT; updated 11:22 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 24, 2013

COLUMBIA — To enhance the experiences of people visiting downtown, the Downtown Community Improvement District implemented free wireless Internet on May 16, a result of the half-cent sales tax on downtown retail businesses passed in November 2011.

The District's free Wi-Fi is currently part of a six-month trial period, after which the improvement district will determine the extent of its use, decide whether or not to permanently invest in it and assess its other options. 

Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District, said she believes the free Wi-Fi will prove to be a success.

"We're seeing a lot of excitement about the Wi-Fi and, more importantly, a lot of use from folks," Gartner said.

The six-month trial project will cost a total of $13,270, Gartner said. The seven transmitters cost $1,295 a month while $550 went into design.

The Wi-Fi is being provided by Full Stream Wireless, a wholesale provider of 4G wireless broadband services in central Missouri. Seven small transmitters were placed on the rooftops of several buildings including the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, Commerce Bank and Boone County National Bank.

Wi-Fi is available between Providence Road and Short Street and on Ninth Street between Elm and Walnut streets. It is also available at Flat Branch Park. Gartner said the improvement district is working to make Wi-Fi available at the Courthouse Plaza as well. 

"I picked up the Wi-Fi for the first time at the Broadway Diner," said Nicole Miller, an MU senior and animal sciences major. "I think it's great since I don't have to remember individual passwords for businesses anymore."

The improvement district's role is to enhance public areas, Gartner said. It provides funding for sidewalk amenities, signs, landscaping and cleaning programs.

"(The Wi-Fi) is a great public enhancement, especially given the rise of smartphones for all sorts of uses," Gartner said.

A doorman for The Blue Fugue wasn't sure about the Wi-Fi's benefits for businesses, however. The venue recently purchased its own wireless Internet access in hopes of attracting more customers and students during the summer.

"I hadn't even heard of this free Wi-Fi," Andrew Jones said. "I think this will annoy plenty of retail owners who are now stuck in Wi-Fi contracts they no longer need." 

Gartner believes the free Wi-Fi will not have a negative impact on local businesses, which will still benefit from having their own private Wi-Fi networks. 

"(The free Wi-Fi) is just available in the public spaces so we're not interfering with any type of benefit a private business would like to offer their customers," Gartner said. "If you're walking down the sidewalk looking for a restaurant, checking maps and reviews, or if you're at Flat Branch Park or Courthouse Plaza eating lunch, you'll have Internet access."   

There is no required password for the free Wi-Fi network, which is named "District Free Wi-Fi."

Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.

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