People gathering in Ashland's "living room" — the newly redesigned Plaza — can now hook up to the Internet for free, an idea first suggested by City Administrator Dave Kanner.
"He felt with the sense that people have of the Plaza being the city's 'living room' and a place where people gather, meet friends and pass the time, that having access to wireless would be an enhancement for the Plaza," said Ann Seltzer, city management analyst.
The Internet service comes via the city-owned Ashland Fiber Network. Those logging on can use AFN Plaza 1 and AFN Plaza 2 without a password.
Earlier this month, the City Council adopted a goal to increase the number of Web-based businesses in town by 50 percent over the next few years. The Chamber of Commerce also has a long-standing campaign to encourage people to move to Ashland and relocate their businesses here.
The wireless service covering the Plaza extends out by about 800 to 1,000 feet, said city Telecommunications Division Manager Michael Ainsworth.
People can access the free Internet service from the front of Lithia Park to as far as Standing Stone Brewing Co. on Oak Street, Ainsworth said. Service may be affected by a variety of factors, including architectural features of surrounding buildings, he said.
The city also provides free, publicly accessible wireless service at the Community Development Building on Winburn Way across from Lithia Park and at the Ashland Civic Center on East Main Street. However, those spots generally are used by people with an interest in government proceedings, such as residents attending council meetings, not the general public, Ainsworth said.
"The Plaza is the only real outside public area where AFN provides free wireless to the public," he said. "It was Dave Kanner's idea to get people more engaged in the Plaza."
The Plaza recently underwent a major reconstruction to replace concrete underfoot with rain-permeable pavers, replace worn benches with new benches and low concrete seating walls, remove several mature trees that struggled in the tight urban environment, eliminate lawn areas and plant new trees.
A crowd of about 150 people attended a Plaza dedication ceremony Friday to celebrate the completion of the four-month project that cost about $209,000.
At the ceremony, Mayor John Stromberg announced the launch of the free wireless Internet service on the Plaza.
AFN also sells wireless Internet service throughout the downtown and in several other locations in the city. It offers regular wired Internet access as well.
The wireless service, called AFNAnywhere, costs $3.95 a day, $12.95 a week or $30 per month. Users pay for the service via credit card.
For more information, visit www.afnanywhere.com or call customer service at 541-552-2244 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.