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Downtown’s free public WiFi network will provide valuable new opportunities

Free Wi-Fi downtown, with the possibility of expanding outward some time in the future, is the latest clear signal to the world (wide web) that Buffalo is primed and ready for business.

The public wireless network will allow Internet access along Main Street from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to Canalside and Erie Basin Marina, starting this summer.

It will light up mobile devices, from laptops to tablets to smartphones, giving users free access to the Internet, hopefully to use social media to spread the word about the cultural and other attractions in the area.

That is the vision of those responsible for this asset, which is getting to be a must-have. Such free Internet access can be an important bridge to a better future, and other cities are way ahead of Buffalo.

No one will want to file taxes on the free network, or pay bills over this unsecure connection, but that is not the intention of the three main partners, M&T Bank, the University at Buffalo and the City of Buffalo. National Grid is also involved in the project.

Free access to the Internet can make a difference in the lives of users, even if just small improvements in convenience. Baby steps have begun and the complete network is expected to be in place by the summer. As reported, there will be 30 hot spots, each with a range of about 250 feet. The idea is to have “near-contiguous” outdoor coverage along Main Street from North Street to the waterfront.

Principals on the downtown project discussed the possibility of expansion, with UB officials pointing to the possibility of building on the fiber-optic cable that “goes around and through the city.” That kind of imaginative thinking could allow Buffalo to take the big step of venturing into a municipal Wi-Fi network.

The idea has sparked interest among a few elected local leaders, and it is clear that there are strong, willing partners interested in investing in the city’s infrastructure to make it an even more technology-friendly place for residents, visitors and businesses.

For now, the downtown network is nothing too ambitious. But this first step is a great enhancement to all the new activity that is transforming the city.