Free public Wi-Fi will be making its debut in downtown Blacksburg on Thursday, as a result of efforts by the founder of TechPad Bob Summers.
Two years ago, Summers and his team began developing a gigabit project that would bring internet speeds as fast as 100 times the average connection to TechPad, a coworking space where innovators and entrepreneurs can collaborate under one roof.
“A gigabit network is the fastest internet connection you can get in the world. It’s a precious resource for software startups and it really is what the future will be. The idea is to provide that resource here so that new applications can be built,” said Summers.
Summers hopes a dramatic increase in internet speed will attract more innovators and investors to Blacksburg, should the project be successful. To date, the gigabit network is already showing signs of positive outcomes.
Another of Summers’ endeavors, called Fitnet, uses the gigabit network to operate and raise funds.
“[Fitnet] is already receiving funds to develop applications on the gigabit network, so the concept is really proving that if we build this network, it’ll attract capital and it’ll attract talent to build the next generation of ideas,” Summers said.
Fitnet is an example of the kind of development and growth could come from using a gigabit network.
Rather than only allow TechPad to enjoy the benefits of a gigabit network, Summers decided to expand the program by installing a Wi-Fi system in downtown Blacksburg. In May 2013, Summers launched a crowdfunding campaign via Crowdtilt in order to cover the cost of a year-long pilot for the project. The initial goal was set at $85,000, but donors responded with $92,400 in support.
Summers credits the overall success of the campaign to the fact that his team raised half of the money before publicizing the campaign. The campaign also received publicity from coverage by local Fox and NBC affiliates. Additionally, high profile investors like Aneesh Chopra, the first Chief Technology Officer of the United States, gave the project a larger scope of support.
“The campaign money that we raised is actually enough to last about 18 months and there’s already plenty of signs it’ll be well beyond that. We really view the length of the pilot as a three-year project. Three years should be enough time to see how it’s used and find new sources of funding,” Summers said.
Initially, Wi-Fi will be running along Main Street beginning Thursday. Looking to the future, Summers has hopes of expanding the Wi-Fi network to campus.
“The real vision is that there’s high-speed Wi-Fi backed by a gigabit network available everywhere in our community,” Summers said. “We feel confident going forward that we’re going in the right direction.”