Expanding Wi-Fi availability in rural Boydton and Clarksville, Virginia
Many rural Virginia communities lack access to broadband. After launching a successful public Wi-Fi program in Boydton, one of its datacenter communities, Microsoft and Lake Country Internet saw the opportunity to replicate best practices and bring high-speed community internet to nearby Clarksville.
Providing Wi-Fi to residents and visitors alike
In 2018, Microsoft contributed $75,000 to build a high-speed community Wi-Fi system for Boydton, Virginia, one of its datacenter communities. In many rural Virginia communities, there are very limited broadband options. Microsoft worked with Lake Country Internet, a local internet service provider, to design and deploy the system that provides service to the town’s residents, businesses, and visitors.
Based on the positive response to that project, Microsoft approached Lake Country Internet to identify another community to invest in; the internet provider recommended Clarksville. In March 2019, Microsoft announced a partnership to deploy free public Wi-Fi in Clarksville. Microsoft donated $125,000 to fund, design, and deploy the network across downtown Clarksville, including Robbins Ballpark, the Clarksville Public Library, and the fine arts center. “We are proud to partner with the Town of Clarksville and Microsoft to build and operate this free community Wi-Fi project for the town,” said David Varner, Lake County Internet President. “As a local family-owned business, we are dedicated to delivering products and solutions that help residents in our community connect to the Internet.”
“Microsoft is committed to helping communities fill gaps in broadband coverage. As the world becomes more digital, access to online services and data becomes more important. Like the community Wi-Fi system in Boydton, this project will help Clarksville residents and visitors stay connected,” said Robert Sloan, Microsoft Community Broadband lead.
Partnering with community organizations to launch the system
In planning this project, Microsoft partnered with Clarksville Lake Country Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Clarksville, and Lake Country Internet to design and deploy the Wi-Fi system through the main public spaces and downtown corridor of Clarksville. This serves the Chamber of Commerce’s goal of promoting economic growth and enhancing Clarksville’s small-town atmosphere, without compromising the town’s natural resources. In addition to public Wi-Fi, the system provides dedicated internet connectivity to several ancillary community organizations throughout the town that provided support by allowing rooftop access for system equipment. Users of the public Wi-Fi have two hours of free access per day. Microsoft is exploring the use of advertising to cover the cost of system maintenance but may use its own resources to pay these fees.
The network was completed in phases. After much of the infrastructure in the central and eastern portions of Clarksville had been installed, the last remaining piece of the project was to install an extension on the town’s water tower. Located on the west end of town, the water tower allowed antennas to be installed at a greater height to ensure full coverage.
The Clarksville public Wi-Fi system was officially launched on December 4, 2019 during the town’s inaugural Grand Illumination event to celebrate the lighting of the community holiday tree. Microsoft was invited to serve as Grand Marshall for both the Illumination event and the holiday parade on December 6. The Grand Illumination event was attended by a crowd of approximately 1,500 community members including Mayor Kevin Allgood, City Manager Jeff Jones, and Chamber Executive Director Sheila Cuykendall.
Providing year-round community benefits
“Internet access is very important to this community as it helps our residents fully participate in the 21st-century economy,” said Mecklenburg County Administrator Wayne Carter. That said, the impact of this new service will be felt during multiple community events that draw visitors from the entire region. As a lake town, Clarksville offers fishing and camping, as well as LakeFest, the largest event in southern Virginia, which attracts 50,000 people each summer. Fall brings Harvest Days, and Big Lake Flea Market takes place each May, while WineFest attracts thousands of visitors each April. These and other events present an opportunity for underserved residents to participate in commerce and come from neighboring areas to access online resources. “The community Wi-Fi system will allow residents and visitors to stay connected when visiting downtown Clarksville, spending time at the library, attending festivals, or attending a sporting event at Robbins Ballpark,” said Clarksville Mayor Kevin Allgood. “Staying connected is an important part of everyday life in our community, and we are pleased to work with Lake Country Internet, The Clarksville Lake Country Chamber of Commerce, and Microsoft to bring this service to our community.”
Between the Clarksville installation and the previous project in Boydton, the hope is that these programs serve as a catalyst to bring attention to solving broadband deficits in the region, while also providing a central location for community access to the internet.
“We appreciate the opportunity to bring positive impact to the community through our partnership with Lake Country Internet, the Town of Clarksville, and the Lake Country Chamber of Commerce,” said Sloan.