Collaboration leads to 2-hour, free Wi-Fi service in Boydton

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Lake Country Satellite President David Varner. Photo by Shandell Taylor

Mecklenburg County now offers two hours of free Wi-Fi access daily in the Courthouse Square area of Boydton as a result of a collaboration between Microsoft Corp. and Lake Country Satellite.

The service addresses a major need in the region. “This free Wi-Fi service, where you can use your own device, is something no other community has in this area,” says David Varner, president of Boydton-based Lake Country Satellite, which will operate the system.

Lake Country was chosen as Microsoft’s project partner because “of their expertise in building and operating Wi-Fi systems such as the one we built in Boydton,” says Jeremy Satterfield, manager of Microsoft’s TechSpark Virginia, a program promoting economic opportunity and job creation in Southern Virginia.

Officials from Microsoft’s Datacenter Community Development program met with community leaders late last year to identify areas where the company could make investments. “The lack of internet availability in Boydton was identified as a need that would benefit merchants, residents and visitors,” Satterfield says.

The free Wi-Fi hours are available for people to do “whatever they need to do,” says Varner. “They can choose whatever two hours they want. As soon as they connect their device, the timer starts. It automatically logs a person out after two hours.”

Microsoft has an ongoing interest in the area. Southern Virginia is one of six TechSpark communities, and Boydton is home to a Microsoft data center. “Our Datacenter Academy, which helps train data-center technicians, was inaugurated at Southside Virginia Community College in South Hill and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston,” says Satterfield.

Microsoft also supports Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative in its efforts to expand broadband service. The co-op secured a $2.6 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to fund a new subsidiary, EmPower, which will deploy 135 miles of fiber broadband in Southern Virginia.

Microsoft Datacenter Community Development is involved in similar projects in other areas where the company has data enters. It is building a community Wi-Fi system in the Valley Junction neighborhood of West Des Moines, Iowa.

“I think it’s going to be a game changer in the long run,” says Varner of the Mecklenburg project. “I think eventually it will draw more businesses and restaurants to the Boydton area.”

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