Public Wi-Fi makes sense

Published 3:09 pm Thursday, September 1, 2016

Last week, Washington’s City Council approved spending $94,340 in grant funds — if the city is awarded the money — on downtown improvements, setting aside $54,340 for streetscape, park improvements and possible Wi-Fi connections downtown, according to a city document.

Providing free Wi-Fi in the downtown area, especially on the waterfront and at the city docks, would help draw more landlubber tourists and boaters to Washington. Some private entities, mostly restaurants, provide free Wi-Fi to their customers. In this age of social media, the city providing free Wi-Fi in specific areas makes sense. Doing so would add another tool in the toolbox the city uses to bring more visitors to Washington. During the 2015-2016 fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2015, to June 30 of this year, domestic visitor spending in Beaufort County amounted to $77.71 million, with a majority of that money undoubtedly spent in Washington.

Council member William Pitt, a longtime supporter of the city providing Wi-Fi downtown and along the waterfront, considers Wi-Fi an economic-development tool. “My question is as we talk about Wi-Fi we’re really sort of missing the point here — that people are coming to be connected. In cities where you see true economic growth, there is public Wi-Fi. I’d like to see us move forward with this because we’ve put it off for a couple of years,” Pitt said. “We need to move forward with Wi-Fi in the central business district.”

Pitt is right. Public Wi-Fi along Stewart Parkway would enhance tourists’ experiences in Washington.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development  — on its website — said one of the most-requested items on its application for grants is “downtown Wi-Fi zones and hotspots.” One of the benefits of free, public Wi-Fi comes in the form of access to disaster assistance after a natural or manmade disaster, according to the website. A hurricane could result on people unable to use their computers at home to access the Internet for information about disaster relief. A public Wi-Fi service provided by a local government could provide that access for people, the website notes.

Washington and surrounding areas know about tourism and disaster relief after hurricanes pay the area a visit. Those two items alone are good enough reasons for public Wi-Fi in Washington.