We read with great interest a news item regarding free wireless internet access in downtown Batesville.

The free service was launched Tuesday and is being implemented to attract more people to the downtown district which has been revitalized over the past three years, according to the Associated Press.

Batesville Main Street executive director Joel Williams says the town is the second in Arkansas to offer free internet access throughout its downtown area. Conway was the first. Batesville’s service has restrictions on most streaming video in order to prevent the system from being frequently overwhelmed.

Bob Carius, former president of Main Street Batesville’s board of directors, says activity in the downtown area has surged only recently because merchants and officials have bought into a cohesive vision to upgrade the area.

Bad Boy Mowers, one of the city’s largest employers, sponsored the free Wi-Fi project by committing about $10,000 over three years, said Scott Lancaster, general counsel for the company, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

This is exactly something that Pine Bluff could benefit from. Everyone loves free internet access, and what better way to help attract businesses and shoppers to the downtown area? We must begin offering some incentives before our downtown can grow and prosper.

Free internet access may seem like a small thing to some, but we know that it would be an attraction, just as the good folks of Batesville knew it would be one for their city.

We are not alone in our thinking, either.

John Horn, CEO of Ingenu, a technology company that specializes in wireless technology, wrote recently on ReadWrite.com that “a city that illustrates a commitment to improvement through smart initiatives is more likely to build strong, well-informed, and healthy communities.

“For example, by creating an autonomous smart bus network and offering free citywide Wi-Fi, Barcelona has effectively encouraged its residents to drive less, walk more, and get out and explore the area. As a result, pollution levels have decreased, obesity rates have dropped, and residents feel engaged with their hometown.

“In America, Atlantic City, N.J., is embracing smart technology by installing LED streetlights that feature charging stations and display screens that keep citizens informed of current events and emergency announcements.”

The bigger point we are trying to make is this: When are we going to get our act together and do something with our city’s core? Just about every other community in the state is making strides with their downtowns. We know that our streetscape project is going to roll out next year, where new trees and sidewalks will help beautify the area. But we need to do something to attract businesses and foot traffic as well.

We need sidewalk cafes and shops and other small businesses. Free internet would be a good place to start, we believe. Start small and branch out is the key. At least provide some kind of incentive for folks to come downtown. Right now, it’s a dead zone.