Free WiFi Goes Mostly Unnoticed Downtown

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COLUMBIA - The Downtown Community Improvement District began offering free WiFi in late May as part of a six-month pilot project. However, a lack of advertising and efforts has left people unaware of the "Free District WiFi" network along Broadway, Ninth Street and in Flat Branch Park. 

The project was originally implemented to bring in more business to the downtown area. However, businesses say they are not seeing any changes.

Madeleine Longhurst is a server at Ingredient on Ninth Street. She said she hasn't seen any more customers coming in, nor has she heard of the free WiFi. "I don't really think it has, at all, increased our business," she said. "I know we're very slow this summer. Maybe during the year would've been a better time to launch this because there would be more people here to actually know about it."

Initial research and design costs totaled $5,500 and each of the seven wireless transmitters cost $50. There will also be $945 in additional monthly operational costs. Thus, the six-month WiFi project will cost $1,295 per month and $13,270 total.

Alicia Cox is a Mizzou graduate. She said she's seen a few articles written about the free WiFi services being offered but she's not sure how to utilize it. "I've never heard anything about like where it's offered or like how you use it," she said. Cox said having more information posted downtown would be helpful. "So many businesses downtown offer their own free WiFi that most people don't really look for it," Cox said. 

The Community Improvement District's (CID) sales tax funds the project. The CID is renting the seven wireless transmitters from Full Steam Wireless. All maintenance costs will be provided by them. 

After the six month trial period is over, the Community Improvement District Board will decide whether to permanently implement free WiFi.

The "Free District WiFi" network is free to anyone in the area and does not require a password.