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Wi-fi can lure business and new residents

Staff Report • Feb 9, 2012 at 8:16 AM

Everyone wants to be ahead of the curve, right? That is what we say when extolling the benefits of taking on a difficult or expensive task. It also means if we are successful with our project, we will be far ahead of the rest of the crowd. That’s a nice payoff.

Downtown Jonesborough has a chance to be ahead of the curve in regard to a key piece of infrastructure in the 21st century. The only question is: Will town leaders take the steps needed to move ahead of the pack?

As Press staff writer Madison Mathews reported last week, CenturyLink has been working with the town since fall to develop a plan for providing free wi-fi throughout downtown. Those talks seemed to bog down a few weeks ago, and town officials now don’t sound as optimistic about the chances for free wi-fi as they did earlier.

“It looked like it might not be as feasible as we originally hoped, but we haven’t worked it through yet,” said Town Administrator Bob Browning.

Browning and CenturyLink should continue their talks in earnest. This is exactly the type of public/private partnership that has proven successful in progressive communities.

In the early part of the 20th century, many homes in the United States were not wired for electricity. The more remote the area, the better the chances were that families there were still using kerosene to light their homes.

The Great Depression saw the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which brought electricity to poor and rural areas of Appalachia.

The early part of this century brings a pronounced disparity of another vital utility — broadband Internet. Hundreds of thousands of households and businesses in this country lack access to a reliable high-speed Internet connection. This once again threatens to put areas of this country at a distinct disadvantage.

Broadband connectivity is essential to lure both businesses and new residents to a community. Without it, many of the new tech generation will go elsewhere.

But public wi-fi is more than an amenity, it is fast becoming essential in a culture where people work, socialize and play on laptop computers and smartphones.

We would hope officials in Johnson City will take note of what’s going on in Jonesborough. City commissioners and downtown leaders discussed the idea of wi-fi a few years ago but dropped the idea because of cost and technical concerns. It’s time to revisit the issue.

Fifty years ago, it was access to convenient parking that drove business development in the downtown district. In the coming years it will be access to wi-fi and other amenities of the digital age that will determine the fate of a city’s downtown.

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