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Roaming around Niagara Falls, without the risk of cellphone roaming charges

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) - Free Wi-Fi is now a reality on Old Falls Street in Niagara Falls.

Local leaders symbolically cut an Ethernet cord Friday to officially launch phase one of the "Niagara Wi-Fi" initiative.

The free Wi-Fi now covers Old Falls Street between Third Street and the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park on Prospect, and will expand into other areas in the future.

Tourism industry leaders say Old Falls Street was the best place to start.

"It’s a concentrated three blocks for programming not just for tourists, but things to do downtown," explained Roscoe Naguit, Assistant Director of the Niagara Global Tourism Institute, which orchestrated the public-private Niagara Wi-Fi initiative between the city of Niagara Falls, Niagara University, the New York Power Authority, and others.

Anyone who has spent time in downtown Niagara Falls likely knows first hand the difference having Wi-Fi access could make. International visitors are often unable to use cellular data to get online in the Falls without paying for pricey international roaming plans.

Even people who are visiting from around the United States have found themselves racking up massive roaming data charges, when their phones connect to the cell towers on the Canadian side of the border.

That doesn't have to be the case anymore.

The Niagara Wi-Fi on Old Falls Street will allow visitors and local residents alike easily get online on their smart phones without having to pay.

One of the major goals, Naguit says, is to help the millions of people who visit the Niagara Falls State Park every year make the most of their time in the city, and maybe even extend their stay.

"You go there (to the State Park), see the sights, Goat Island, Maid of the Mist. But after that, if you’re here for a couple days, we want to give that medium for you to find the other things to do in the area," Naguit said.

No matter how long visitors are in town, it's important for them to be able to get online to look up information about everything from where to eat to where to shop to where to stay and more.

"They’re already in your backyard, you should be able to benefit from that economic activity," Naguit pointed out. "Being able to give visitors the ability to find local businesses keeps that money in Niagara Falls. You talk about helping our local businesses, but also generating more tax revenue for the city."

Offering the free Wi-Fi could also help generate more business in the city.

People who use the Wi-Fi share data about where they're visiting from, which could help direct future marketing efforts.

Additionally, the Wi-Fi will make it easier for people to post pictures on social media, showing the world what they're seeing here.

Pat Proctor, the chairman of the Naigara Falls Tourism Advisory Board, tells News 4, local businesses rely on that word-of-mouth marketing on social media. "The pictures themselves sell the area," he said.

Proctor is also the vice president of Rainbow Air, Inc. which attracts at least some customers by flying over the Falls. Visitors see the helicopters in the air and start thinking about taking a trip themselves.

Now, when those visitors look up and see a chopper overhead, they can easily look up information online about how to book a trip, thanks to the free Wi-Fi.

"To make their stay more accessible, to be up to the technology needs that other cities are ahead of us, it’s huge," Proctor said.

Former Buffalo Bill Thurman Thomas’ 34 Group is the Wi-Fi vendor while Transwave Communications installed the hardware and provides bandwidth.

Funding for the $150,000 project was split evenly by the Niagara Global Tourism Institute (through NYPA), the city of Niagara Falls and Destination Niagara USA.

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