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South Elm gets hooked up to Wi-Fi

by Amy Kingsley

Greensboro residents jonesing for a downtown Wi-Fi connection like the one that vanished from Center City Park during recent construction can now get their fix on a six-block stretch of South Elm Street.

Banners attached to lampposts from February One Place down to Natty Greene’s Brew Pub near West McGee Street announce the service, a collaboration between Action Greensboro, Time Warner Cable, Landmark Communications’ GoTriad and several others. The history of Wi-Fi in Greensboro, and its current availability on South Elm Street, is complex and dates back to 2003, said Jenny Stokes of Action Greensboro.

It emerged from a conference in Memphis, Tenn., where creative class guru Richard Florida spoke to organizations from across the country. In their discussions about how to attract and retain young professionals, representatives from Action Greensboro kept hearing about Wi-Fi programs in other cities. When they returned to Greensboro, staff members of Action Greensboro wrote a grant proposal to the Future Fund and received $12,000 to install Wi-Fi in Center City Park.

When planners began construction on a redesigned park, the equipment that provided Wi-Fi had to be removed.

‘“We really just diverted the service we had,’” Stokes said.

Once the park reopens, Stokes said Action Greensboro is interested in reinstituting service there as well. That will involve an additional investment in equipment, not moving the service from the newly christened South Elm Street Wi-Fi Corridor.

‘“I think we feel like it’s going to be an extra amenity for people visiting downtown,’” Stokes said.

A local blogger writing under the name Silflay Hraka complained about service interruptions caused by bad weather and building shadows during the April 21 kickoff event. The Wi-Fi is available for people sitting outside and does not penetrate downtown structures, Stokes said. Maintenance workers provided by IT Training and Solutions are still tweaking the system for optimum performance, she said.

Dan Nelms, the owner of Four Corners Market, said four or five customers have logged onto the service in the last week. None complained about the quality of the connection, although users have access to five different Wi-Fi options in that location.

‘“Overall I think it’s a good thing,’” Nelms said. ‘“I don’t think it will bring people downtown, but I do think that it’s good for the businessmen who are already here.’”

He gestured at employees from Now Marketing, an office housed in the Guilford Building across the street.

‘“When people get cabin fever they can get out of the office,’” he said.

Nelms decided against installing Wi-Fi at his business, even though Alex’s Cheesecakes across the way does offer the service. Sometimes that signal drifts over to Four Corners Market, he said.

At the far end of the corridor, Natty Greene’s manager Erica Sammartino said she has not seen any customers using the new service.

‘“Somebody was in here yesterday but they couldn’t get it,’” she said. ‘“I think they got the Green Bean’s signal instead.’”

A person standing by the restaurant’s patio fence earlier in the week logged onto the downtown Wi-Fi, she said. Neighboring coffee shop the Green Bean has long offered unlimited Wi-Fi for a $1 fee.

‘“I think the thing that has really stuck out for us about this project has been the collaboration,’” Stokes said.

The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and Weaver Foundation funded the project. A hi-tech nonprofit called the Phoenix Networks contributed, as well as IT Training and Solutions, Time Warner Cable and presenting sponsor GoTriad.

To comment on this article, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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