Wayne County Public Community WiFi Access

Wayne County - Tennessee
Waynesboro Downtown

Wayne County is located in South Central Tennessee along the Alabama border at the crossroads of Highways 64 and 13, the Natchez Trace Parkway, and the Tennessee River. It is Tennessee’s largest county in land mass and one of the lowest in population ratios. According to the 2016 TNECD Internet Connectivity and Utilization Report, 69% of the Wayne County population was without broadband access, placing them in the lowest 10 counties in the state. Without internet access in their homes, businesses and public places throughout the county, residents are at a disadvantage and growth in the county’s local tourism and agriculture economic sectors was limited. The need for high speed internet is high, and the feasibility for extension of services is problematic due to the density of customers, the county’s topography and long distances for installation.   

In 2016, Wayne County was designated as a distressed county and became eligible for TNECD Asset-Based Planning services. Economic development and government leaders convened to identify the county’s assets and discuss specific needs and opportunities in rural economic and community development as part of the process. Community leaders determined that the need for county-wide broadband service was one of their top priorities.

Creating public WiFi access in the county’s three cities would directly support two goals of the county:  tourism and broadband access, as well as enhance all of the county’s goals and assets. While the county had made it easier for tourists to find their way around the county through TNECD’s Tourism Enhancement Grant for wayfinding signage, there is still no better way for tourists to see what the county has to offer other than connecting with them online. All three cities, Wayne County Government, the local chambers and JECDB had new websites yet few people could access these sites locally to learn of the many resources within the county.

Providing public WiFi would also provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to conduct research to start up their business, sell their products or work online. The Digital Hub, a virtual call center funded by the state Workforce Opportunities Investment Act (WIOA) located on the square in Waynesboro, trains workers for home-based customer service and telecommunication-based employment. Due to the lack of broadband availability in the county, most workers have not been able to perform the work they trained for from their home locations.

Wayne County had several downtown and entrepreneur development programs to build upon in this effort. Both the county seat of Waynesboro and Clifton had participated in the TNECD Tennessee Downtowns program, and leaders were in place to support the creation of downtown access points in both communities. In addition to Waynesboro’s Digital Hub, Columbia State Community College Clifton Campus leaders had created entrepreneur resources at the River City Entrepreneur Center, and staff at both locations were on board to support the initiative. All of these programs provided networks to market public internet access to residents and business in the three communities.

Asset Based Enhancement Implementation

In 2016, Wayne County proposed to use TNECD Asset Enhancement Grant (AEG) funds to accomplish four of their action-oriented asset based planning goals. The county received $50,000 in AEG funding to 1) implement public WiFi on the downtown square of Waynesboro, 2) provide utilities and ADA compliant upgrades to the TCAT Hohenwald site in Wayne County, 3) complete land clearing for the Waynesboro industrial site and 4) conduct feasibility and market studies for the timber industry in Wayne County.

The AEG grant component to create public WiFi access on the Waynesboro downtown square would allow citizens and tourists to gather on or near the public square to gain internet access. Access to public WiFi would allow students to do their homework, potential employees to file online job applications, entrepreneurs to research or conduct business, as well as attract more tourists to the public square.

The Wayne JECDB allocated $15,000 of the AEG for purchase and installation of public WiFi technology and equipment to be installed on the Wayne County Courthouse. Public WiFi would be available in any outdoor venue around the downtown square including the gazebo and all public buildings including the Wayne County Courthouse and Waynesboro City Hall. Support from the county’s IT Director to assist with installation, system maintenance, service costs and placement of signs around the square to advertise the WiFi access ensured successful implementation of the new system.

Collinwood Library Public WiFi Hotspot Access

In 2018, Wayne County JECDB leaders continued their strategy to provide public community internet access in the county’s smaller municipalities. Collinwood and Clifton shared the same goals as Waynesboro to provide WiFi internet access for citizens, students, potential employees, entrepreneurs and tourists at convenient downtown locations. In 2018, Collinwood Public Library leaders took advantage of UT Institute of Agriculture technical assistance and university grant funding to provide community WiFi access and training services to patrons. A local contributor agreed to provide matching funding to pay for first year subscription costs for the new service.

JECDB and Collinwood Public Library staff created plans to install and provide WiFi hotspot checkout services at the facility. University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture Community Development faculty and Wayne County UT Extension staff  provided technical assistance to determine the best carriers and assisted in writing a UT Office of Community Engagement and Outreach grant for the purchase on two mobile hotspots for library patrons. Library leaders administered a community survey to confirm community interest and obtained over 500 responses. This led the way for successful marketing of the new service. Wayne County UT Extension staff provided training for library staff on use of the hotspots to jumpstart service delivery.

Mobile hot spots through two carriers became available for checkout in June of 2018 at no cost to residents. Residents can check out a mobile hot spot for two to three days on a first-come, first-served basis and are asked to complete a short survey regarding hot spot usage, experience, and willingness to pay for broadband internet services. Information gathered through this process can be used to negotiate pricing with future internet providers and to position Wayne JECDB and library leaders to confirm local demand and request future funding to expand services. Researchers will also evaluate whether providing reliable internet access improves lifestyle, educational attainment, wellness and business environment in rural areas.

Clifton and Waynesboro Libraries Public WiFi Hotspot Access

In September of 2018, public library leaders in Clifton and Waynesboro were on board to add similar services. Both libraries partnered to request funding through the TNECD Digital Literacy Grant administered through the Tennessee State Library through the Training for People (TOP) grant program to establish similar WiFi hotspot access. Wayne County public library leaders are also exploring additional funding through digital literacy and other sources to continue to expand local services and equipment. Wayne JECDB leaders plan to use a portion of upcoming ThreeStar funds to purchase new technology including wireless printers for each library to continue to expand local access and services.

Broadband Readiness Community Designation

In August of 2018, the county mayor and a new county commissioner created the Wayne County Broadband Access Taskforce that included a mix of representatives from economic development, utilities, business sectors, and current and potential internet providers. This committee worked with the county commission to pass a Broadband Ready Community resolution to put in place a new policy that supports broadband expansion in their community by removing barriers for providers in the provision of their services. This policy met the requirements of TNECD’s Broadband Ready Communities program designation in October of 2018.

Wayne County’s TNECD Broadband Readiness Community Status positions local applicants to earn extra points on state broadband grant applications. The committee’s next step is to expand relationships with local providers and benchmark best practices from other communities to determine the best strategies and projects to expand broadband services to more citizens and businesses throughout Wayne County in preparation for future funding requests.  

Community Impact

This project is contributing to economic and community development and the quality of life in Wayne County. The county’s first Asset Based priority to provide public community WiFi access in the designated downtown district of Waynesboro, Collinwood and Clifton is being accomplished. TNECD AEG and UT investments in public community WiFi access in each city are attracting more tourists and offering a centralized location for all county residents to access the Internet.

Through new public WiFi access in each downtown, tourists and locals alike now have the ability to plan out their day in Wayne County and retrieve information on the county’s tourism and recreation destinations like the Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee Fitness Spa, Tennessee and Buffalo Rivers, concerts and events, and community services. In preparation for launch of the TNECD-funded Wayne County Asset Based Tourism Economic Strategy launch, public WiFi now allows tourists to receive the same benefits they already receive in more urban areas when they come to visit rural Tennessee. First six month WiFi Usage reports include:

Waynesboro Square  100+ daily @12-15 users per hour  
Collinwood Public Library 39 families checking out the hotspots within the first three months of project startup  
Customer Services and Resources Library and HUB staff training for users, Secure Access, Community Information Signage, Public WiFi Information on Host websites
Customer Adoption Events 3 (initial and on-going)

Project Funding

TNECD Asset Enhancement Grant (technology and equipment) $15,000
University of Tennessee Office of Community Engagement and Outreach Grant (wireless access device and contract) $500
Private Sponsor (wireless access device and contract) $500
TOTAL BROADBAND SYSTEM PROJECT FUNDING (Projections for federal and state grant funding, local investments) $16,500

Project Leadership and Partners

Wayne County JECDB – Executive Director – Project Contact
Wayne County Government
Collinwood Public Library
Clifton Public Library
Waynesboro Public Library
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development
University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture
University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service
Private Sponsors

For project information contact the Wayne County JECDB.

TNECD Asset Enhancement Grant Program

The Asset-Based Planning program was developed through the Rural Task Force to assist distressed counties with strategic planning and development of short-term goals that would address the causes of distress: unemployment rate, per capita income, and poverty rate. TNECD and the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service worked with the communities to develop action-oriented goals based on the communities’ assets. Following that process, TNECD wanted to ensure that the communities had the resources to accomplish their goals and created the Asset Enhancement Grant provided through the Governor’s Rural Task Force and Tennessee Rural Economic Opportunity Act of 2016 and 2017.

TNECD Broadband Accessibility Program

Access to high speed broadband is one of the most significant economic and quality of life drivers in Tennessee. The TNECD Broadband Accessibility Grant Program facilitates broadband access to all Tennesseans and promotes practices that increase deployment and encourages adoption. The program targets services and funding to areas that are unlikely to receive broadband service without grant funding. TNECD Broadband Accessibility program services are provided through the Governor’s Rural Task Force and Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017 and 2018.

For more information visit TNECD Community and Rural Development.