The best spots for free WiFi in Uptown. Should there be more?

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I think about free public wireless network access for three days every month. When the 29th of the month rolls around, I inevitably receive a text from Verizon saying I’m at 75% of my allotted data usage. This leads to a predictable freak out that I’m going to exceed my data plan limit and be charged a billion dollars before it resets four days later at the start of the next billing cycle.

You really don’t realize how much of your life is online these days until there’s some sort of barrier to that access, and the transition from believing I have unlimited access to extremely limited Internet access is jarring. Most of us are lucky in that losing this access only means we can’t instantly see on Instagram that someone from the Agenda is at 7th Street Market (again! Yay!). For many people in our community however, a lack of Internet access can mean an inability to pay bills, research and apply for a better job, look up more efficient transportation schedules, read about nutrition or millions of other things that those of us with steady Internet access take for granted on a daily — hourly — basis.

Symbol-for-WiFi

Internet access in 2015 is a life-changing capability. Charlotte is one of the most difficult areas in the entire country to climb the socioeconomic ladder, and lack of equitable online access is almost certainly a contributing factor. The idea that someone with the desire to improve their station in life cannot access the (virtually unlimited) online resources to do so because they lack the means to afford reliable Internet is unacceptable.

Solving this problem for Charlotte is Bruce Clark’s job. His goal as Charlotte’s first digital inclusion manager is to ensure every person in Charlotte has access to the Internet, and he’s got the full backing of Digital Charlotte and the Knight School of Communication at Queens to help him pull it off. You can read more about Digital Charlotte’s strategy here, and if you’re interested in getting more involved, I encourage you to reach out to Bruce. Spend five minutes with him and you’ll realize he’s the right guy for this job.

But back to me being a self-interested Internet hog. On the 29th of a recent month, after I received the text from Verizon telling me I’ve watched that video of a chimpanzee riding a Segway too many times, I wondered if I could sustain my daily Internet consumption in Uptown using entirely free wifi networks.

Search-Results

Photo via Google

An initial search made it seem that there are a bunch of resources that exist to provide this information, but after a closer look, these resources were extremely dated or incomplete, leaving out well-known gathering places that have their own (password-required) free networks. These lists were also all business-centric, and didn’t include networks available from public spaces like the library or around BB&T Stadium/Romare Bearden Park.

Open-Wifi-Spots-Map

Photo via Google

Using my nearly-always-there Internet access, I floated the idea of creating a Charlotte-focused map of free WiFi past Bruce, and we spent the next week or so compiling a list of free WiFi networks in Uptown. Once we had the list, Bruce did all the work, and what emerged from this work is below.

WiFi-Map

Photo via Google

This map in its current form is far from complete, and it certainly prioritizes function over form, but it’s our hope that with your help, Charlotte will have crowdsourced a map of free WiFi networks around town. By publicizing the areas that provide free Internet access, we hope word will spread with a pleasant byproduct of creating connected areas of town accessible to a diverse set of Charlotteans.

Here’s how you can help out with this project:

(1) Visit the submission site here

(2) Have the following information handy for your free network submission:

  • Location/Business Name
  • Address
  • Network Name
  • Does the network require acceptance of terms? (Y/N)
  • Does the network require payment for access?
  • Additional details

(3) Enter the above data in the form and click “Submit.”

(4) That’s it!

If you’re feeling lazy, you can also post the location of a network you’ve found on social media with the hashtag #OpenWiFiCLT. We’ll periodically capture these networks and fill them in ourselves.

Submit-Form

Photo via Google Forms

What we noticed

I found it surprising how many frequent gathering places around Uptown had no WiFi whatsoever. The Atrium at Two Wells Fargo had a password-protected network for employees and visitors to Wells Fargo. This was disappointing, but I understand the need for a financial institution to be stingy with network access. However, just outside the Atrium in the plaza was a WiFi dead zone, which I found very surprising. What made this even more disappointing was the fact that right across the street was the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce! You would think if anyone could recognize the importance of public broadband access, it would be them.

My faith in Charlotte as a connected city was lifted however after walking through Brevard Court to Romare Bearden Park, where I was able to join the Knights/BB&T Stadium FanNet network and hang ten on the world wide web for free thanks to the Knights. I was surprised at how quickly my (already high) affinity for the Knights grew, and I immediately felt they were striving to bring together our community by providing this service.

Please help us build out this map as a resource for the community, and while doing so take a minute to realize how much more difficult your life would be without ubiquitous Internet access.

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I live in Elizabeth, work in Uptown, and spend my time loving where Charlotte's been and thinking about its future.