Expanded wireless coverage for underserved areas in the east end and the downtown business district is operational, the city announced Monday.
Similar coverage will be available soon in Cardinal Valley and to police, fire and emergency workers through a public-safety broadband network.
Mayor Jim Newberry compared the importance of expanded coverage and helping people become computer literate to the interstate highway system of the 1950s and 1960s, which he said had a "profound impact" on economic development and improving people's access to much of the country.
Anthony Wright, the mayor's director of economic development, said, "We know access to the Internet is an opportunity for people to apply for jobs online, advance their education, getting college degrees right from the comfort of their own homes."
A $550,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and more than $1 million in state and federal public safety grants were used to expand the network, which originally served only the downtown business district.
The city views the ability to use a computer as an economic development tool "because at the city, for example, you have to apply for all your jobs online now," said Rama Dhuwaraha, the city's chief information officer.
Whether it's fear, cost, education, age or lack of exposure that holds people back, "We need to overcome that and get people using computers," he added.
When people log in, the wireless network they are looking for is Lexington Public. Click on that, and a page will pop up. Users then sign on and are ready to go, he said.
People who already have wireless should not cancel their service, Dhuwaraha said. "We want them to continue what they have, if they already have it. This is for people who don't have it and are in dire need of getting on the Internet to look for a job, do research or communicate.
"We are not guaranteeing service, but we are trying to make it available in the areas."
The new Lexington Public wireless uses public infrastructure including traffic signal supports to string fiber-optic cable to make the broadband signal available.
The area covered is roughly from Rupp Arena on the west to the intersection of Midland, Vine and Main streets on the east, and four blocks north and south of Main Street.