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Free wireless internet up and running in Boydton / October 10, 2018

Community-wide Wi-Fi service is now available in Boydton. On Wednesday, Microsoft and Lake Country Satellite set the launch of a free community Wi-Fi service in town.

The service area covers the Courthouse Square east to the Dollar General store on Madison Street in Boydton.

The project was developed in response to a community need, according to Robert Sloan, Microsoft’s director of data center community development.

Speaking at Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative’s Empower Broadband launch party in September, Sloan said Microsoft is committed to improving the communities where it has operations, and hence the tech giant pursued the Wi-Fi project in response to demands identified by local residents.

Sloan noted that access to Wi-Fi was a significant need in the region.

Empower Broadband is the name of the high-speed fiber optic network that MEC is installing across Southside Virginia.

“Broadband is very important to this community as it helps our residents fully participate in the 21st century economy,” said Mecklenburg County Administrator Wayne Carter. “That is why we advocated for this project, and why we appreciate this contribution by Microsoft and Lake Country Satellite.”

Broadband service is defined by the Federal Communications Commission as download/upload speeds of 25/3 Mbps.

The community Wi-Fi system recently completed its testing phase and now can be accessed through any wireless device through the network ID “Boydton Wi-Fi.” Users can log-in to the network for two-hour increments. Lake Country Satellite’s David Varner said the two-hour increment is a “hard cut-off. Since the system, as currently configured, was not set up for extended use needed for online gaming or video streaming.

“As a locally-owned and operated company for two generations, this project has really been a labor of love for us,” said Varner. “The work we’ve done with Microsoft allowed us build the infrastructure that will benefit everyone that lives, conducts business, or visits Boydton.” They were about 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule in completing the install.

Right now, Wi-Fi users around the Courthouse Square area of Boydton will have free access to internet with speeds of between 25 and 45 Mbps. Plans are already in place to expand the service area east to Boydton’s Volunteer Fire Department and the Copper Kettle restaurant on Madison Street across from the Hudgins courthouse complex.

Varner cautioned, “This is an open system, and users should use their own judgment when accessing programs that require the user to input personal data, such as online banking or bill pay.” The system has firewalls and security that are built-in, according to Varner, but like any open Wi-Fi it is vulnerable to hackers “who know what they are doing.”

Other local projects supported by Microsoft include working with Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative to secure a $2.6 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC) to fund the launch of their new broadband subsidiary, Empower, which plans to deploy of 135 miles of fiber broadband across Southside Virginia. This work is part of Microsoft’s broader commitment, through its TechSpark Virginia program to foster greater economic opportunity and job creation in the region.

The tech giant is also involved with workforce training — through the Datacenter Academy at Southside Virginia Community College and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center; grants to local non-profits, including Vets on a Roll and Mecklenburg County Community Services Corporation; and Microsoft helped build a computer science program at Bluestone High School, through its Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program.

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