Castle Rock has made a point of making itself more livable with time-honored improvements: New streets, lighting and sidewalks and rows and baskets of flowers planted around downtown every summer.
The next improvement is a digital one, and it’s made the city part of a national trend: A month ago it installed free Wi-Fi service to the downtown area. Signs alerting residents and visitors alike went up Tuesday.
The sign-on to connect is decidedly simple: Castle Rock.
It’s something for people to enjoy “while they’re having a cup of coffee” or to use to check out attractions and businesses in town, said city Public Works Director Dave Vorse. He said Castle Rock is the first city in the county to install free Wi-Fi.
“I think this benefits us in a couple different ways,” Vorse said. “We see it as an economic benefit as people spend more time in town as they find a place to stay or have lunch. And this adds to the quality of life for residents who live here. This is our model for economic growth — to develop quality of place, to be a place where people want to live, work and play.”
Users will be limited to an hour of connection at a time. The download speed is 25 megabytes per second.
“It’s not meant for people to stream movies or for businesses to use for their routine operations,” Vorse said.
Castle Rock is among the smallest cities in the United States that has installed what is commonly called “Muni Wi-Fi,” shoft for municipal Wi-Fi. Boston’s “Wicked Free Wi-Fi” network is primarily for outdoor use to seach for places to shop, eat or connect with other residents of the city. New York is converting old pay phones into Wi-Fi hotspots.
No current number of cities offering Muni hot spots was available Tuesday. A Wikipedia listing from 2014 included the names of about 100 U.S. cities, most of them metropolitan areas and all of them much larger than Castle Rock, which has a population of 2,000.
Castle Rock used a $70,000 Rural Economic Development grant from Cowlitz County to get the service installed. The coverage area is most of the downtown area, the north trail head area and the Park and Ride lot out by the freeway. The project involved installing Wi-Fi units around the town, and they had to be wired together with fiber optic cable by Cascade Networks, Vorse said.
“We think it has a lot of potential benefit,” Vorse said.