Decatur, Ala., Says Downtown Wi-Fi Rollout a Must

With the goal of becoming a more progressive lure for young residents and businesses, the city council took the first step toward delivering free Internet access throughout the downtown area.

by Bayne Hughes, The Decatur Daily / February 19, 2019
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(TNS) — The Decatur City Council took the first step Monday morning toward adding free Wi-Fi throughout the city’s downtown area.

The council voted 3-0 to approve an agreement with Decatur Utilities to install Wi-Fi equipment on three DU poles along Second Avenue for $1,250 plus power and usage costs. Councilmen Chuck Ard and Billy Jackson were absent.

Brad Phillips, city director of information systems, said this first phase will use the city’s Internet service from an antenna on city hall to the DU power poles. This will provide coverage along Second Avenue Southeast from Lee Street Southeast to Gordon Drive.

A second phase is planned for Bank Street Northeast. Phillips said he wasn’t sure how far to the west or east people will be able to get a signal off Second Avenue.

“Eventually, we’d like to cover all of the city’s Entertainment District,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he hopes the first phase is up and running by the March 2 Carnegie Carnival but at least before 3rd Friday Downtown begins its new season April 19.

Mayor Tab Bowling said an open Wi-Fi in downtown is important to the city.

“We’re trying to be a progressive city,” Bowling said. “A lot of cities offer Wi-Fi downtown. We have a college [Alabama Center for the Arts] and it has a new leader, so we’re expecting more students soon.”

Stratton Orr, co-chairman of the One Decatur comprehensive plan steering committee, said Wi-Fi is part of the plan because residents said this is one of the things they would like to have as an amenity.

“Some towns like Huntsville, Fairhope and Mountain Brook already have Wi-Fi so I think there’s an element of competitiveness,” Orr said.

Bowling said the Wi-Fi is for residents and visitors, and he doesn’t expect the downtown businesses will want to use an open Internet signal because of safety concerns.

Councilman Charles Kirby said Wi-Fi is part of today’s technology and “it’s something we cannot not do, especially if we want to attract young people to our city.”

Councilwoman Kristi Hill said local young professionals groups like the Jaycees have expressed interest to her in adding downtown Wi-Fi.

Council President Paige Bibbee said she would like to look at partnering with Decatur City Schools in providing free Wi-Fi to other parts of the city.

“There are pockets of children who don’t have Internet access,” Bibbee said. “The school system can give them a laptop, but it doesn’t do them any good if they can’t use them at home.”

Phillips said he is still working on how to deal with security issues like limiting access to porn sites.

“It will have some sort of splash page,” Phillips said. “I don’t know yet if it will have a sign-in page.”

Also known as a captive portal, a splash page can provide a customized branding experience to wireless users in addition to prompting for username/password credentials.

Bowling said the city Wi-Fi will be similar to the Wi-Fi available at airports, hospitals and restaurants.

©2019 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.