North Raleigh News

Wake Forest considers free Wi-Fi service

Elected leaders will once again consider offering wireless Internet access in some parts of town, the second time the topic has come up in the last three years.

Wake Forest Commissioner Jim Thompson said citizens expect Wi-Fi service, especially from a town that touts its dedication to technology development.

“We’ve got to keep up with the times,” he said. “The longer we don’t do that, the more we’re falling behind innovative communities.”

Wake Forest IT Director Tom LaBarge has asked the Board of Commissioners to put aside $40,000 in the next year to set up wireless Internet access in certain areas of town.

Downtown, parks and any other areas where residents tend to gather would be good places to consider for the service, Thompson said. People would be able to connect to the Internet on their laptops and mobile devices.

While the request is for $40,000, the actual cost would depend on where the Wi-Fi spots are set up and what kind of equipment is used, LaBarge said.

The proposal would also pay for digital kiosks that could provide information about the town to visitors.

The cost estimate is based on research LaBarge did about three years ago when he initially brought the project to the board. He teamed up with Lisa Hayes, the downtown development director, in 2012 to ask downtown merchants if they liked the idea of public Wi-Fi.

“A lot of merchants already offer it in the stores, so they didn’t think there needed to be a townwide one,” Hayes said.

Merchants who didn’t offer their own wireless service liked the idea, however.

Hayes said there were questions a few years ago about the speed and reliability of Wi-Fi service the town could provide. That’s partly why the idea stalled.

“If it’s not done right, it can be hard to manage and hard to use,” she said.

Some other Wake County towns already offer free Wi-Fi spots or have considered providing the service.

Holly Springs provides free wireless service in most town facilities. Cary also offers Wi-Fi in its town facilities.

Wendell is installing service in its downtown, and Knightdale leaders are weighing the possibility of offering the service at the town’s new park, Knightdale Station.

In Wake Forest, making the move for public Wi-Fi would show the town is proving its commitment to technology, Thompson said.

“I think it was a good idea then (in 2012), and I certainly believe it’s an even better idea now,” he said. “Had it been done then, it would’ve been monumental.”

Hankerson: 919-829-4802;

Twitter: @mechelleh

Have your say

Wake Forest residents can share their thoughts on a proposal to offer Wi-Fi service at the March 17 meeting of the Board of Commissioners. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 301 S. Brooks St., Wake Forest.