By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Local business leaders gathered in Majestic Park at the epicenter of Downtown Johnson City to announce a new partnership that will bring free WiFi to those who visit the downtown district.
The Appalachian Regional Commission announced last week approval of a $27,500 grant to the Johnson City Developmental Authority that will pave the way for the Downtown Johnson City Free WiFi Program. Additional funds for the two-year project are provided from the JCDA with in-kind support from BrightRidge Broadband.
This grant will help provide free public WiFi to the five-block radius of the historic downtown. Founder’s Park, the Pavilion at Founders, King Commons and the historic business district will be included in the initiative.
“The partnership between BrightRidge, ARC and Johnson City Developmental Authority is a great example of the role that organizations can play in connecting people,” said Robert Williams, Chair of the JCDA. “We are excited to partner with BrightRidge in order to offer free WiFi in our downtown parks and along Main Street and ensure that next-generation connectivity is accessible to everyone visiting us.”
Dianna Cantler, Director of downtown development for the JCDA, said she anticipates the free WiFi will entice people to stay downtown for longer. In an increasingly digital world, easy and instant access to the Internet is more important than ever before, especially for college students from ETSU or Milligan.
“I anticipate students having study groups in our green spaces and the addition of 1G capability will be an asset to those who come downtown for a meeting in one of our coffee shops or restaurants,” Cantler said.
BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said the free public WiFi at TVA Credit Union Ballpark was part of the company’s pilot program when it launched a broadband division, and he believes those who come downtown for festivals and events – such as the Blue Plum Festival or Meet the Mountains – will make good use of the new technology.
“This is designed for visitors, for people coming downtown for festivals,” he said. “It’s designed as a great draw to bring people into town, to enhance what the festivals already bring to the community. Also, when you have a festival and you have someone that has a booth and they need to run credit cards, instead of them having to plug into their phone and use the data on their phones, they’ll be able to tie into this WiFi system.”
The plan is for the new free WiFi service to be in place in time for the Blue Plum Festival in early June. At the completion of the two-year project, the option is on the table to continue the program if it proves to be feasible.