Columbia Implements Free Wi-Fi Downtown

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COLUMBIA - The Downtown Community Improvement District began offering free public Wi-Fi Thursday as part of a six-month pilot project. Visitors to the area can now utilize the "Free District WiFi" network along Broadway, Ninth Street and in Flat Branch Park.

The project will utilize seven wireless transmitters downtown, and after six months, the Community Improvement District Board will determine whether to expand service year-round and add seven more transmitters. The board's executive director, Carrie Gartner, said the Wi-Fi service aims to allow downtown visitors access to maps, social networks and other interactive applications in public spaces like parks and sitting areas. She said people are more likely to stay longer in public spaces that offer free connectivity.

Columbia resident Kalynn Ramsey said the free Wi-Fi will allow her to take her work with her downtown. "It would be very handy because I do work from home and I'm working all the time," Ramsey said. "I don't have a traditional work schedule, so I could come down on a Saturday and do my work down here."

Gartner said initial research and design costs totaled $5,500 and each wireless transmitter cost $50. She said there will be $945 in additional monthly operational costs, so the six-month Wi-Fi project will cost $1,295 per month and $13,270 total.

The project receives funding from the Community Improvement District (CID) sales tax. The CID is renting all hardware for the project from Full Stream Wireless, so the wholesale provider will be the party that incurs maintenance costs.

The "Free District WiFi" network is not password protected.