The free wireless connection that once covered much of downtown Asheville has been inoperable for most of the past year, and due to the county's budget crunch, there are no plans to repair it in the near future, county staff confirmed today.
Starting last March, "parts of the wireless system went down, and we'd get some of them back up, but they'd go down again," explains Glen Hughes, the county's technology-services director. "The whole system needed to be redesigned, and that's just not been funded. With the economy like it is, that's just not been the highest priority."
Asked if there are any plans to repair the network, Hughes says, "We will always try to keep it in what we'd like to do, but there are no plans at the moment."
The county began offering free Wi-Fi in July 2005, proclaiming, "The Buncombe County commissioners are proud to announce that wireless access to the Internet is available to you at no cost." Service was later expanded to cover much of downtown, though the signal strength varied. Less than four years later, with little fanfare, the free Wi-Fi was gone.
One of the reasons repairing the network is not a top priority is because the entire wireless situation has evolved. "When this began, we didn't have much Wi-Fi downtown at all; that's changed," Hughes says. "A lot of places offer free Wi-Fi, and a lot of people can access it, or they can get online through their phones. It isn't as necessary as it once was, so it's fallen from the high-priority list."
In the meantime, some locals are hoping to persuade Google to bring one of its proposed ultrafast broadband networks to Asheville (see the mountainx.com blog post "Getting Google With Grassroots Involvement.")