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Free WiFi comes to Ellicott City

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announces the launch of free WiFi for historic Ellicott City on July 20, 2015.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announces the launch of free WiFi for historic Ellicott City on July 20, 2015. (Staff photo by Amanda Yeager)

Visitors to historic Ellicott City will now have access to free WiFi as they stroll down Main Street, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced Monday.

The WiFi network, FreeHoCoGov, was installed over the weekend and is accessible from Fels Lane down to the Baltimore County line.

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Kittleman said access to free WiFi would make the town "much more inviting" to visitors and locals alike.

"Whether you want to find what's on the menu of a local restaurant or find out if there's space on a ghost tour," visitors can connect to the web to find the answer, he said.

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The announcement came as part of a progress report on improvements to Ellicott City. Construction on Parking Lot E, near the intersection of Main Street and Court House Avenue, a new retaining wall behind the lot and a staircase connecting the Circuit Court House to the town below were also completed this weekend, according to county officials.

And a recently formed task force focused on finding ways to reduce flooding in Ellicott City has met several times and will soon turn to considering specific projects, according to Councilman Jon Weinstein, who represents Ellicott City in District 1.

Kittleman said the improvements were "all about sustainability." His budget for fiscal year 2016 included $2.5 million for Ellicott City projects.

Howard County taxpayers will not incur a cost for the new WiFi network, according to the county's technology director, Chris Merdon. Funding for the project, which is connected through Verizon, comes from a fund that generates revenue by leasing out Howard's Intercounty Broadband Network connection, or ICBN, to local businesses.

Debra Korb, executive director of the Ellicott City Partnership, a group of business owners, preservationists and other stakeholders, said free WiFi would be a plus for Main Street businesses. While the network is not guaranteed to work in shops and restaurants, Merdon said service would likely extend into the buildings.

The new staircase and parking lot will also contribute to the vibrancy of the town, Korb added. Lot E includes 30 new free spaces – parking is "the biggest concern for our business owners," she said.

The 66-step staircase was a project launched by former County Executive Ken Ulman to address parking concerns in town by connecting Main Street with the court house parking lot. Construction on the stairs, retaining wall and parking lot – which is paved with a pervious concrete – began in June 2014.

Environmental work is underway with funding for a local group, the Restoring the Environment And Developing Youth program, to clear channels in the old town that are blocked by debris, according to Weinstein. Longer term plans to renovate the channels are in the works, he said.

"I'm glad to see so much progress in the first few months," Weinstein said of Kittleman's Ellicott City initiatives.

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