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Free gigabit Wi-Fi comes to downtown Blacksburg

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli
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Bob Summers is the founder of TechPad in Blacksburg.
Photo courtesy King Crow Media/Kingcrowmedia.com

Imagine a world where online videos and pages loaded way faster … 100 times faster than the average Internet speed, to be exact. Thanks to a new gigabit Internet network that has come to Southwest Virginia, that’s now a possibility for people in downtown Blacksburg.

TechPad, which provides office space for companies in downtown Blacksburg, spearheaded the effort to bring free, public Wi-Fi to the area. TechPad’s founder, Bob Summers, says he started the project after spending three months in Chattanooga, Tenn., where gigabit Internet is available to all businesses and residents. 

TechPad raised $92,400 in three months using a “crowdsourcing” site, Crowdtilt.com. “I was overwhelmingly surprised how many people contributed,” Summers says. “It was really incredible.”

The money will sustain the project for 18 months, and TechPad is close to making the project sustainable for at least three years, Summers says. Part of that funding will come from a $300,000 grant Fitnet (Summers’ telefitness application company) and Virginia Tech received to explore the use of fitness applications on advanced networks. Further funding for the free Wi-Fi in downtown Blacksburg will come from research dollars and companies buying access to the ultra-fast Internet, Summers says.

“Imagine a dozen startups that are building gigabit-type applications,” Summers says. “Those companies will pay to have premium-level business access to this network and that will subsidize the public Wi-Fi.”

The gigabit network currently is available at Kent Square, a mixed-use development in Blacksburg, and TechPad. Wireless access to the network is available to about 40 percent of downtown Blacksburg.  “As time goes by, we’ll be deploying more and more,” Summers says. Several thousand devices have accessed the network since it went live in September, he says.

The network has allowed Dave Perks and Andy Horner to run their new advertising agency, Horner & Perks, from Blacksburg and Lynchburg. The network, for example, allows Perks, based at TechPad in Blacksburg, and Horner, located in Lynchburg, to share large design files with each other within seconds.  “It’s basically like having a conversation with each other when we’re trading files back and forth,” Perks says.

The new technology is a far cry from when Perks was attending Virginia Tech in the 1990s when Blacksburg was known as the most wired town in America. Back then, Perk recalls, a file that started downloading at night would finish downloading in the morning. “At the time, it was amazing,” Perks says. “Fast forward 18 years, and now we’re at this. It’s absolutely incredible.”


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