Free Wi-Fi attracts crowds at public libraries, cafes and downtowns

Everyone likes free Wi-Fi service. The Wall Street Journal reports that public libraries are trying to cope with a massive increase in visitors who are looking for jobs online. Many are using the libraries’ free Wi-Fi: “Laid off from her job as a bookkeeper at Home Depot more than a year ago, Ms. Miller, 29 years old, says she has visited the library “if not every day, every other day” since October to check job listings with her computer. Shamika Miller works on a computer at the Stockton-San Joaquin County Library in Tracy, Calif., a town that has been ravaged by mortgage foreclosures. “I come here, first of all, because it’s a free Wi-Fi spot,” says Ms. Miller, who supports a 10-year-old daughter on her unemployment compensation. And, she says, “there’s something about the library that helps you think, at least for me.”

Downtown free Wi-Fi gets a boost

Even small towns in Idaho are deploying free Wi-Fi access in the downtown area because residents are demanding it. This is different from the “build it and they will come” theory. This is the “they demand it and we will build it” model. In Treasure Valley, Idaho, a trucker uses free Wi-Fi service for email, looking for directions, research.

The town of Meridian has set up a downtown hotzone: “What we’re starting to see as a consumers is people who want to come out and have lunch outside in the nice weather. They are really expecting to be able to access their e-mail and surf the net for free,” said Shaun Wardle, with the Meridian Development Corporation. A third town, Nampa, will be rolling out free downtown Wi-Fi service, too. (Click here to read the full story.)

Clovis, California abandoned plans for a citywide Wi-Fi network, opting instead for a smaller, more focused Wi-Fi network covering the downtown area: “I think it will take people down there,” said Bob Keyes, the city’s information technology manager. “If I know I don’t have to pay for it, I can sit out on a patio, eat lunch and have free Wi-Fi.” Some business people Wednesday welcomed the Wi-Fi network and think it will be a convenience to workers and customers. Leslie Troxel, manager of Scoops, Soups & More, a downtown restaurant, said the business employs several students who are encouraged to do their school work when they are not on the job. That often involves using their computers. The downtown network will cost the city only $1500 when it’s fully built out. A citywide network would have cost the city more than $1 million.

Since Clovis is not a densely populated city, it does not make sense to have Wi-Fi available outdoors on every street corner for public Internet access. Hence, the city should focus on places where people go outdoors and congregate when the weather is pleasant. The other alternative for a municipality like Clovis is to build a citywide Wi-Fi network for municipal use (e.g. public safety, AMR) and if they have excess capacity, they can let the public use the network (as they do in Rock Hill, SC).

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