Jun. 19—HENDERSON — An ongoing partnership with Open Broadband LLC has allowed Vance County to bring free Wi-Fi to downtown Henderson and Kittrell since Memorial Day weekend.
County Manager Jordan McMillen said that internet access has become an important need for Vance County residents with technology now a necessity for daily life and that the free downtown Wi-Fi is a small part of a much larger goal.
"We had been talking about possibly doing this for a while," McMillen said. "Even though it took some time, we were able to bring [Henderson] in as well. This is a good thing for people in the area who need access to high-speed internet."
Open Broadband provides hybrid fiber and fixed wireless ISP solutions for fast and reliable internet in which radio signals are used instead of cables for connections to service providers. Fixed wireless also supports speeds up to 50 Mbps.
While Vance County has been working with Open Broadband since 2019 to provide wireless, high-speed internet throughout the region, McMillen said that the company could benefit from a marketing standpoint if local residents were familiar with their name.
The solution that both sides agreed upon involved installing the free Wi-Fi throughout the downtown area of Henderson, which would allow people to use the internet from their phones or laptops in a practical manner.
"I wish we could have done this sooner during the pandemic and the needs that were out there," McMillen said. "The school system did a really good job getting out there with their Wi-Fi bus but with this, you just log right in and you have access."
The free Wi-Fi is available outdoors along the Garnett Street section that runs from Rose Avenue until Orange Street where Sadie's Coffee Corner is located. Residents can also access the Wi-Fi at locations that include the Vance County Courthouse,McGregor Hall and Perry Memorial Library.
In Kittrell, the free Wi-Fi locations can be found at the Dollar General, Kittrell Grocery, Shell gas station and Post Office parking lots on U.S. Highway 1. The network names for each city are Open Henderson and Open Kittrell.
McMillen added that Open Broadband is also currently working on installing Long Term Evolution equipment on water tanks at New Hope Elementary School and on Warrenton Road, as well as the Kittrell Volunteer Fire Department.
With this service, residents in Henderson and Kittrell can use the non-line-of sight LTE equipment for personal or business purposes and become monthly customers of Open Broadband with rates that will be lower than Spectrum or CenturyLink.
McMillen expects the LTE equipment to be activated once Vance County figures out how large the coverage area will be. He added that the county is determined to provide as much high-speed internet access as possible to local residents through the remainder of the decade.
"We have a multi-year contract with Open Broadband," McMillen said. "Over the next three or four years, our goal is to get high-speed internet across the entire county. That's not the free Wi-Fi but rather the broadband people pay for and we're going to keep working closely with Open Broadband to accomplish that goal."