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Free downtown Wi-Fi offers Internet access for all

The Internet today is what electricity was 100 years ago. An increasingly vital part of daily life, Internet service is still inaccessible for many Beaufort County residents and businesses.

In downtown Washington, however, a newly unveiled free public Wi-Fi network is now putting the Internet within reach for every citizen who owns a computer, tablet or smart phone.

From Festival Park to the Washington Waterfront Docks lighthouse, and all points in between on Main Street, young and old can connect quickly and easily, placing the world’s knowledge at their fingertips.

The free Wi-Fi network is a result of collaboration between the City of Washington, the Washington Tourism Development Authority, the Washington Harbor District Alliance and the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce.

“It helps leverage the cost,” Washington City Manager Bobby Roberson said. “We decided from a city perspective that if we wanted to be successful, we needed to step up. We want to encourage people to use the waterfront. The joint-venture project shows what you can do when you co-partner (with other organizations).”

A memorandum of understanding between the four parties laid out the terms of the agreement last October. While the city spent money to establish the infrastructure for the network, the three nonprofits have agreed to split the recurring costs of running the system for at least the next three years.

For visitors, the splash screen is a friendly welcome to Washington. Upon connecting, users are provided with a map of the downtown area, information on shopping and dining, and a full listing of events coming up in the area.

“For tourists who are visiting with us, they get an opportunity to know all the cool things that are happening, as well as different places to eat, shop and stay,” WHDA Director Meg Howdy said.

According to City of Washington IT Director David Carraway, since the service became available in a limited capacity in January, a total of 3,461 unique devices have connected to the downtown network, with an average of 117 connecting daily.

“It’s a benefit to our tourists that are coming in and our citizens downtown,” WBCCC Director Catherine Glover said. “It’s part of a growing community and a piece that needs to be there as you continue to think forward. It’s something the community needs to not only be a great tourism location, but also a great place to live.”

Connecting to the network is simple. Select the “Washington Wi-Fi” network, use your browser to agree to terms of service, and you’re connected.

“If you can find a place that allows you the luxury of getting on the Wi-Fi, we’re happy to help you provide that,” WTDA Director Lynn Davis said. “If you know that you can get on Wi-Fi in a public space, it’s going to bring you downtown. So it’s a benefit to local residents and a benefit our visitors.”

While connecting to the network is a free service for anyone, signs promoting the network also remind users that the network is unsecured. One way to ensure safety is to only conduct sensitive business on encrypted websites; these can be identified by the “https” prefix on a website address.