Free internet to bring life to downtown Sylva

Free, public access Wi-Fi will soon be available in downtown Sylva thanks to a grant focused on bringing internet to rural communities.

The partnership between SkyFi, Inc., BalsamWest, the Southwestern Commission, Jackson County Economic Development, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Jackson County Tourism Development Authority, Town of Sylva and a host of downtown businesses and building owners cultivated this project hoping to provide a commodity to the people of sylva.

When the Southwestern Commission received a grant from the state to distribute funding for public internet access in the far-Western counties in the summer of 2021, Sylva leaders successfully applied for the “The Student Connect Grant”. The grant was funded to support projects that included more public Wi-Fi hotspots, a lending library for laptops, and Chromebooks for area students. The grant totaling $50,000 for the Town of Sylva spurred the project’s progress.

Sylva-based SkyFi, Inc, received the contract to execute the grant, and local internet provider BalsamWest provided service to the satellites used to distribute the internet wirelessly free of charge.

“We are so lucky to work with such great partners in Jackson County,” said Russ Harris, Executive Director of the Southwestern Commission. “The public sector organizations like Jackson County Economic Development, and the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce are organized and ready to move when opportunities come up, and then to have internet service providers who are as community-minded as BalsamWest and SkyFi is really rare.”

“From an economic development perspective, the benefits are endless,” said Tiffany Henry, Jackson County Economic Developer.

“But include the ability to promote local businesses on the landing page and attract tourists who appreciate the benefit it provides,” said Henry.

With free public Wi-Fi, guests and tourists will be able to stay in town longer and not have to worry about the limitations of having unreliable network service.

“It also offers a public space for students in the community who need the internet to complete homework assignments. I’m so proud we were able to make this happen and positively impact our community through this project,” said Henry.

With free Wi-Fi now available wherever you go in downtown Sylva, students are encouraged to take their schoolwork with them and enjoy what the downtown area has to offer. This creates a livelier student scene which benefits both the local shops and the universities.

Caroline Hufnagle, an art education major at Western Carolina University, commented on how useful the new Wi-Fi will be to students.

“For a place as close to Western as Sylva, and the studying environment it has to offer, I think it would positively impact the student body having Wi-Fi available in the downtown area,” said Hufnagle.

Lacie Larsen, another student at WCU, shares similar thoughts on the benefits of the new Wi-Fi.

“I believe that with downtown Sylva’s decision to implement free Wi-Fi will create an opportunity for students to become more familiar with the area and help promote small businesses,” said Larsen.

The most crucial members of the project, however, did not come from the companies or committees involved. Instead, this advancement comes in greatest thanks to the cooperation of numerous downtown businesses and building owners who allowed SkyFi to locate crucial equipment on their buildings free of charge. Without these businesses, community members of Sylva may still struggle to get the reliable Wi-Fi service they need.

Visitors to Sylva can go to “Sylva Downtown Wi-fi” to access the network. No password is required, and the service is free of charge to all users.