As part of its efforts to attract more people to the square, the city of Covington is now offering free wireless internet service on and surrounding the square.
Whether people use it to work on their laptops or save their smart phone data, the hope is that free internet
service will bring more people, and potential patrons, downtown.
"They have this in Conyers and other towns, and they have a lot of people using it," said Covington's Systems Information Manager Bobby Johnson. "By putting in this service, we hope it will bring in more patrons who will spend money downtown. We hope in the long run the city gets back its investment in tax dollars."
Sign technician Greg Pickett was on the square Thursday placing signs announcing free wifi was available, but Johnson said many residents have already been using the connection since it went live March 16. He said a dozen or more people are using the service at any given time between lunch and 6 p.m.
The city has spent around $12,000 to date extending fiber optic cable to the square and installing equipment to send out the wireless signal. Originally, the city had $25,000 budgeted to do a study of the idea, but Johnson and the city's IT staff did the research instead and used the money to actually provide wireless internet instead.
The council approved March 19 installing additional wireless units at $2,000 a piece to extend the signal to downtown restaurants, including Amici, Bradley's Bar-B-Que, Plain Nuts and Square Perk. Johnson said the units should be installed during the next month. Currently, wireless service extends into the front portions of most buildings, but the signal doesn't penetrate very far into certain buildings because of building materials.
"Wireless internet access has come to be considered one of the amenities in promoting a user-friendly environment in a downtown district," said Main Street Covington Director Josephine Kelly. "A number of communities throughout the state, the city of Covington being one of them, have taken the lead on this.
"Wireless internet will definitely be an asset for downtown Covington. It will be a draw in bringing people to the downtown and, in effect, will allow people to spend more time in the district, translating to the possibility of creating higher sales."
In addition to signs on the square, Main Street will promote the free wireless access on its website, newsletter and through social media and word of mouth.
If businesses are interested in purchasing an amplifier to extend the signal strength throughout their building, Johnson said the city could possibly work with them.
Johnson said city officials will also look at possibly providing free wireless service in other areas of the city, namely where it already has fiber optic cable or can run cable to fairly easily. Johnson said parks or recreational facilities could be a natural location for free internet.
Money to expand the service is included in next year's budget, but the council will not officially approve the budget until later this year.