Ward Shepherd, the entrepreneurial founder of Citywide Wi-Fi, decided that the town of Atlantic Beach, South Carolina needed a solution to its low level of internet access. His company provides free, ad-subsidized wireless internet to every house in this small, predominantly African-American town.
MSNBC’s Nightly News reported on the project, interviewing Shepherd about his entreprenurial vision. “Knowledge is what gives you an opportunity to excel. Without access to the internet, without access to knowledge then you really stay stagnant and you don’t grow,” he said.
CityWide will put wi-fi receivers and transmitters across the city, each one relaying its signal to the next to create a “mesh network” of connected nodes.
There are two “plans” under CityWide’s system. Residents can either choose free access, which is slightly slower and is subsidized by ads, or a $25 per month plan with a faster connection. The paid plan does not require a contract, like many ISPs – it’s strictly “pay as you go.”
Free of charge, the service runs at around 300 kilobytes per second – not blazingly fast, but enough to find jobs, check email, pay bills and read the news.
Shepherd is using Atlantic Beach as testbed before extending the service to bigger cities.