Free WiFi could arrive in downtown Beaufort by end of February

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 26, 2014 

PLG-WIFISAFETY SP

KIRK LYTTLE — MCT

A long-discussed plan to bring free WiFi to downtown Beaufort could be up and running by the end of February.

A "wire-cutting" ceremony is tentatively planned for Feb. 28.

Main Street Beaufort, USA, has been working with Hargray Communications and the city of Beaufort on the plan, which would bring wireless Internet service to the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Transmission equipment would be set up at the park's pavilion and at the restrooms near the playground.

"I'm ready to pull my big scissors out of my closet and sharpen them up so we cut that wire," Main Street Beaufort executive director LaNelle Fabian said. "I love when we cross long-term projects off our list."

To use the WiFi on a smartphone, tablet, computer or other device, people will have to pass through a landing page with advertisements, information and links related to Beaufort.

The service, which will cost $9,000 for the first year, is being paid for in part by that advertising. There are 17 ad spaces, with costs ranging from $375 to $1,500 for the banner at the top of the page, Fabian said.

"I tried to keep the price down and small-business friendly, because our first go-around is going to be to downtown businesses so they can target the people who are downtown," she said.

Main Street seeks $4,500 in accommodations-tax money from the city to pay for the rest. The accommodations tax, often referred to as a "bed tax," is a levy on overnight lodging to fund programs promoting tourism and attracting visitors.

If that money is not awarded, Fabian said, the organization will find another way to pay for it.

Free WiFi will happen regardless, she said.

Mayor Billy Keyserling said bed-tax awards are not expected to be considered by City Council until at least March, and he said he cannot say if he would vote to approve the money until he knows what else would compete for the funding.

However, he supports the idea and believes it will draw some people downtown.

"You see people go to coffee shops or cafes to use WiFi and work," he said. "Is it going to bring people from 70 miles away to Beaufort? Probably not. But will it make people come and use the park and the downtown? Maybe."

Depending on the signal strength, nearby businesses could also use the WiFi, Keyserling said. The bill for Internet access at his office on Charles Street averages $120 a month -- significant savings for some businesses -- and they might consider supporting the program financially, he said.

If the first year is successful, Main Street Beaufort intends to expand the WiFi into the downtown business district, possibly to Craven Street two blocks north, Fabian said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

Related content:

Plan for free downtown Beaufort Wi-Fi revived, Sept. 25, 2013

Security cameras, free Wi-Fi coming to Waterfront Park, May 8, 2008

Beaufort bed-tax grants remain behind schedule, Oct. 1, 2013

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