JONESBORO -- The city of Jonesboro is providing free Wi-Fi Internet service downtown to draw more people to the restaurants, venues and businesses in the area.
Ritter Communications is providing the high-speed, multi-gigabit service free to an area along Main Street from Cate Street to the north to Washington Avenue to the south. The service began Saturday in conjunction with a downtown barbecue festival.
"It's the entertainment center of Jonesboro," Mayor Harold Perrin said of his city's downtown. "It's where people go to visit."
Batesville, Fayetteville and Wilson, a small community in Mississippi County, are other Arkansas municipalities that offer free Wi-Fi services as incentives for visitors.
"We have tournaments here. We have lots of people who visit," Perrin said. "People come downtown for meals. They want to check on the Internet for scores and news. Now they can do it."
Ritter Communications, a Jonesboro-based company that serves 45,000 customers in 62 Arkansas communities, installed wireless access points throughout downtown.
"We live in a world of connectivity, and people have become accustomed to having wireless internet access wherever they go," Ritter Communications President Alan Morse said in a news release. "We're proud to provide this service that will certainly enhance the downtown Jonesboro experience as people enjoy the retail, dining and entertainment venues."
Lindsey Ford, the executive director of the Jonesboro Downtown Association, said the free Wi-Fi service is essential for the growth of downtown.
She said it will lure Arkansas State University students to the area to eat at restaurants and do their homework online.
"It's the way of the future," she said. "We want to see more students come to the downtown, and this is a large step in making that happen. We had a huge problem in the past with people always looking for free Wi-Fi downtown."
Some downtown restaurants already provide free Internet services to customers, but it's confined to the stores.
Skinny J's, a downtown restaurant that serves sandwiches, hamburgers and steaks, offers its customers Wi-Fi.
Owner Jimmy Reeves said he's pleased the service now extends to the entire downtown area.
"I think it's great," he said. "More Internet never hurts anybody. If there's Wi-Fi, people can come down, watch podcasts of events, watch sports and have access to things they didn't want to miss.
"It's an excellent deal. If something happens and our Wi-Fi goes down, our customers will have another connection."
Offering free wireless Internet service is a trend other municipalities are looking at as a means to boost downtowns, said Amy Whitehead, director of the Community Development Institute at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway.
"It's a big deal," she said. "Creating public places where people can converge and be connected ... is a quality cities are trying to promote."
She said several Conway coffee shops offer free Internet services, and she often sees people working at them.
"Freelancers and entrepreneurs use them," Whitehead said. "People need places where they can do their work.
"I think Wi-Fi is going to be part of a city's infrastructure. It's expected now," she said.
Perrin said he intends to provide free Wi-Fi services at other locations in Jonesboro -- such as at Joe Mack Campbell Park, Craighead Forest Park and the Southside Softball Complex -- in the future.
"This is all part of helping develop our economy and our tourism in Jonesboro," Perrin said.
State Desk on 10/02/2017