Four Steps to Building Your Downtown Wi-Fi Program

Getting your downtown Wi-Fi program off the ground can seem like a daunting task. You can think of every reason in the world to start, but there are so many buildings and then paperwork and finding funds and wires … oh, the wires.

The most important step to getting started is putting together a plan. A plan that works for your community is critical to making sure that you reach your goal and helps you establish buy-in and support within the community.

So we put together a quick four-step process for a successful downtown Wi-Fi program.

Step 1: Needs Assessment

A needs assessment identifies existing Wi-Fi that may be provided via local businesses, libraries and other public places and locates gaps in coverage. This information will set the stage for discussions about the location of equipment to create the new network.

Assembling a team of experts will help you gain buy-in and support from your community. Ideally, your team should consist of a local IT person like your county CIO, a local emergency management staff member, someone engaged with business owners and a local official. You can be the lead person for the project with the responsibility of seeing it through to completion.

The team can help map existing Wi-Fi availability, transmission speeds and coverage as well as gaps. Once you know what you have, you can determine the overall coverage needs and what speeds are needed for that coverage area.

Step 2: Availability Assessment

An availability assessment helps you identify the infrastructure you can access and is important for two reasons.

The first is to determine if existing providers offer services (fiber vs. non-fiber) that may provide backhaul. We mentioned wires. Even wireless networks need wires to transmit data back to the internet.

The second is to help with budgeting. Backhaul can represent a significant portion of the costs of a WiFi network.

Our office can help with these tasks as they speak to neutrality, issuing RFPs and bringing competitive bidders to the table. Contact one of our Technical Assistance team members for a site survey to determine the potential coverage area.  Our Technical Assistance team can identify the existing infrastructure and contact the existing and potential providers of backhaul.

Step 3: Financing Availability Assessment

One of the critical components to developing a downtown Wi-Fi program is making sure that it is sustainable. Having a network that people won’t be able to access with the necessary speeds for optimal service will undermine the value and longevity of your project.

The financial assessment allows you the opportunity to develop creative ways to finance your new network for the long haul.

Options for financing the network include, but are not limited to:

  • Having the businesses that were paying for their own Wi-Fi network help pay at a lower rate by joining your network.  This also eliminates their need to manage the Wi-Fi.
  • Having local business advertise on the redirected home page for your network
  • Grant funding from the government or local businesses/industry
  • Sponsorship with advertising options on the network

These are only a few of the available options that you can use to finance your downtown Wi-Fi network. For more, please contact our Technical Assistance team.

Step 4: Plan Development

Plan development helps assign accountability to the specific individuals who will help get the plan off the ground. This way, you can identify the executable tasks that will help you pursue your objective.

You should also identify who will be responsible for the administration of the network. Administration of the network will include identifying and securing the providers to manage outages and request speed and capacity increases during special events in the downtown area.

Developing your plan can be a process itself. The local government IT director, a GIS expert for mapping speeds, infrastructure and availability, an emergency management coordinator, local government finance or budget directors, and an economic developer are all good candidates for participation.

Once you have formed your team and have reviewed the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office recommendations for your downtown Wi-Fi program, we recommend that a member of our Technical Assistance team should sit down with your team to go over the many questions that come with any new responsibility or assignment. This step will give you access to expertise that will help you flesh out and identify additional information for your project.


While these four steps are the typical backbone of what you should expect based on what exactly your locality needs, they may flex and grow and the level of importance for each step may change.

If you are having trouble getting started with your downtown Wi-Fi project, please reach out to our Technical Assistance team and they will be happy to help.