Public Wifi And Its Potential Impact

Recently, the Raleigh city council has gone ahead and given the OK for public wifi in the downtown area. According to the N&O, the area bounded by Person, Morgan, South and West streets will have free access to the internet over the wifi network. Spending the money for a free service does come with its criticisms as many people are nervous about the economy these days. As a big internet user and downtown resident, this makes my life better, as well as my options for ‘geeking out‘ around downtown. However, the service is not aimed for residents but more for visitors and, as the city’s website states, to:

…support downtown revitalization efforts, including the reopening of Fayetteville Street to vehicular traffic, the opening of the Raleigh Convention Center and the highly anticipated opening of City Plaza in the fall.”

I’m not sure I agree with this wording because vehicular traffic and wifi are not a great match but that is just me being snarky. Anyway, I have never had the experience of using free public wifi even though it is a growing trend in many cities across the nation. I would imagine that wifi makes sense because of the increasing amounts of internet capable devices people are buying. Also, I’m sure it is safe to assume that many of the Raleigh Convention Center’s visitors are from out of town. The laptop is such a common device that many have with them while traveling for business. So does easier access for visitors make a difference? We’ll have to find out on our own but I looked at the City of Seattle to see what they have been doing with their now four year public wifi experiment.

Seattle has a very informative website that talks about the wifi situation in the city. Some of the items they list are its affects on businesses, usage numbers, and future plans for the network. One section, that should be read by anyone interested, is titled “Evaluation: Does It Make A Difference?”. It looks like there was a positive impact and as the website briefly states:

In short, there was an economic benefit seen by about a quarter of the businesses, and users found a great deal of benefit through cost and transportation savings and convenience for personal and business uses.

There is a very thorough 32 page report (pdf) for you to peruse through but I’ll stick to the three page summary for now. Here are some key facts taken from this report:

  • One-quarter of businesses surveyed have seen a positive impact on revenues and customer numbers.
  • It is not viewed as a significant competitor to those who already had wi-fi, and is seen as overall beneficial to the district.
  • Two-thirds [of users] said yes when asked whether Seattle Wi-Fi contributed to their coming to the area today. Three-quarters said that Seattle Wi-Fi encouraged them to go into a business in the area.
  • Over half the users in the survey (53.3%) answered that the presence of Seattle Wi-Fi had saved them driving.
  • Seattle Wi-Fi increased the use of

It looks like Seattle saw mostly positive signs from the wifi in the specific areas that had it. This is just one example out of the many areas around the country that have public wifi so whether the benefits will be the same in Raleigh will have to be seen in a few years. Comparing Seattle to Raleigh is tough but it is good to see other cities having success with their wifi projects. It could be one more benefit to doing business and spending money in the downtown area, where the tax revenue is felt by the entire city. If usage is high once the network goes up this fall, there is the oppurtunity to create revenue from the service in order to possibly pay for itself and future upgrades.

Maybe will get a makeover once the network is up and running.

Similar Posts:


Comments are disabled here. That's because we're all hanging out on the DTRaleigh Community, an online forum for passionate fans of the Oak City.


  1. Leo, I would assume it will be a mixed bag. Seattle is a much bigger city and attracts far more people in its downtown, even without Wi-Fi – I need to look at the report for details. Will it work for Raleigh? Probably it will be beneficial in the future, but it will have to be part of a greater package. Sitting in a deserted City Plaza – no, I am not predicting anything, just going for the worst case scenario – looking at the empty Charter Square site, or the Marriott Hotel eyesore just isn’t enough to make Wi-Fi an attractive feature.

    I would say that after we fill in all the undeveloped parcels with the projects proposed thus far, and after we get the nearby condos (present and future) filled with people, then we may discuss the availability of additional amenities. Currently, free Wi-Fi may get a few people excited, but I am not confident it will justify the expense. Hopefully, I will be proven wrong ;)

  2. There’s also a library downtown. With free Wi-Fi. I know because I work there. Granted, this won’t help you if you plan on working on a business proposal while standing in the middle of the road or if you had hoped to catch up on viewing something lascivious while simultaneously enjoying the great urban outdoors, but still…. All are welcome.

  3. Does not matter what it costs, this area is a hub for leading edge technolgy, “LET”S START SHOWING WE ARE LEADING EDGE, INSTEAD OF BLEEDING EDGE”
    (example of first impressions and bleeding edge, that pathetic Terminal 1 at RDU, I live here and it was embarrassing walking through that hollow cannon the other night, everything was closed at 7:00 p.m.), any technology upgrades to “The Triangle” should be made.
    Where are the Digital Billboards?
    That Convention Center Oak Tree at night is laughable!
    Where are the overhead walkways (Example: Crabtree to Marriott, simple technology folks, which we do not have in our city, they are waiting for someone to get killed at that crosswalk.

  4. Thomas, you made a good point. Raleigh should invest on its technology image. We are strong in this field and we should invest more on amenities that demonstrate just that. Maybe we can initiate another public-private cooperation initiative, letting various companies in the Triangle to sponsor part, or all of the Wi-Fi related expenses. The city can find a way to make it known who the sponsors are. How about Lenovo and Dell, since they have yet to fulfill their promises after they got all those incentives from the state government?

  5. I disagree with the City’s investment of a Wifi service that will serve only one section of downtown Raleigh. This is the third instance in which the vast majority of taxpayers are left out.

    The free downtown bus service claims to be funded by the Downtown Alliance, however, I suspect the City has a role in this as well. Raleigh City Council no longer even tries to explain the unfairness to their constituents in the North, West (Rex Hospital and Brier Creek area), East and Southeast Raleigh.

    A couple months ago it was stated that we HAD to set up sites to juice up an electric car. A car that isn’t yet available. Anyone concern with a long line of people needing a boost at the same time?

    As a real estate and life insurance broker I too depend on the Internet for conducting business. But until this is available to a greater group of citizens, this investment was just plain wrong.

  6. The logic behind comments such as those by Venita Peyton are laughable. Let me start with this, as my mother always says….”Life isn’t fair, get over it”

    The “every tax payer should get the same benefit” argument is juvenile at best. We all have an interest in downtown being vibrant. Certain areas get parks, newly paved streets, new libraries, etc. that are far far away from where I live, and I am sure plenty of my tax dollars go into those improvements.

    The “R” line isnt accessed by flashing an ITB card when you get on. Its a free circulator bus for ANYONE and EVERYONE that spends time downtown. There really isn’t another dense area with the type of activities in close proximity around to warrant the R being expanded. Would you like it to take the 7 mile trip out to North Hills? Maybe it can add a quick stop on Franklin Street, or the American Tobacco Warehouses, well you are at it, why not add Shelly Lake, those folks around there pay taxes too DAMMIT!!!!

    If you would like to argue that in the current economic climate, improvements such as public WIFI shouldnt be made at all, fine…I understand that, but the whole fairness argument has got to go, it just sounds like sour grapes.

  7. Hackles is right. A strong downtown benefits the city as a whole. We can’t depend on RTP and NCSU for all our economic supply…any decent-sized city has to have a prominent business center. Plus in the case of a capital city, a government center as well. (Yes, the areas to the east and south of downtown definitely need a boost too, but if downtown is booming and providing new jobs, the folks in those neighborhoods could very well benefit, provided that they actually take the initiative to take advantage of it all).

    The investments aimed into downtown in the past decade still pale in comparison to all the money poured into the suburbs and exurbs over the decades before. We’ve only barely scratched the surface.

    WiFi is not a huge chunk of money when compared to its benefits to the building up of our city business center. To compete, Raleigh must embrace the 21st century technologies out there…or we’ll be left behind.

  8. I am fairly certain that downtown gets less money in return from the government than it pays in taxes. The only real road construction downtown recently has been Fayetteville St. How much money was spent on 540? I love all these great parks being added downtown, …. oh wait. The city has lost 60% of its park since its founding. The rest of the city actually gains parks. The difference is that when something happens downtown it is reported, because it usually has a greater effect.

  9. I am glad to see there are at least a few rational like-minded folks around town!

    The city has funded sprawl for decades, and now people bitch and moan everytime something goes downtown…its high time that that argument fades away and people begin to support downtown in a positive way.

    Again, if you want to speak out against government spending in general…be my guest, just give up the “downtown shouldn’t get that if we don’t get that” crap!

  10. Exactly, Ken! Other than Fay Street and the new work just now starting on Hillsborough, I can’t hardly think of any other major road project Inside-the-Beltline in over a decade!
    (And no, simple repaving some new asphalt doesn’t really count.)

Comments are closed.