Strong Local Partnerships Lead to Public Broadband Access for Downtown Sylva

The new year brings free Wi-Fi internet to downtown Sylva, providing a safe, public space for students and residents who may not have access in their homes, and allowing visitors to stay in town longer.

The new service is a result of a partnership between SkyFi, Inc., BalsamWest, the Southwestern Commission, Jackson County Economic Development, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Jackson County Tourism Development Authority, Town of Sylva, and a host of downtown businesses and building owners.   

When the Southwestern Commission received a grant from the State to distribute funding for public internet access in the far-western counties in the summer of 2021, Sylva leaders successfully applied for a grant for $50,000 for the project. Sylva-based SkyFi, Inc, received the contract to execute the grant, and local internet provider BalsamWest provided service to the satellites used to distribute the internet wirelessly free of charge.  

“We are so lucky to work with such great partners in Jackson County,” said Russ Harris, Executive Director of the Southwestern Commission. “The public sector organizations like Jackson County Economic Development, and the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce are organized and ready to move when opportunities come up, and then to have internet service providers who are as community-minded as BalsamWest and SkyFi is really rare.”

A key component of the project was the cooperation of numerous downtown businesses and building owners who allowed SkyFi to locate equipment on their buildings free of charge. These include Ward’s Plumbing and Heating, Hollifield Jewelers, David Schulman, Balsam Falls Brewing, the Sylva Herald, Mad Batter/Lazy Hiker, Greg and Jenny McPherson, Holly Hooper and Heather Norwood, Livingston Kelly, Chip Owen, B&B Gifts, and In Your Ear Music, as well as the Sylva Police Department and Jackson County Library. 

“From an economic development perspective, the benefits are endless, but include the ability to promote local businesses on the landing page and attract tourists who appreciate the benefit it provides,” said Tiffany Henry, Jackson County Economic Developer. “It also offers a public space for students in the community who need the internet to complete homework assignments. I’m so proud we were able to make this happen and positively impact our community through this project!”

Visitors to Sylva can go to “Sylva Downtown Wi-fi” to access the network. No password is required and the service is free of charge to users.