Residents, visitors, and local businesses in Downtown Pikeville will have access to free wireless internet thanks to a $60,000 grant given to the University of Tennessee Extension.

The funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission will allow the installation of 22 wireless access points to span across the five-block downtown area that includes medical and dental facilities, pharmacies, restaurants, a church, government offices, and a dozen retail businesses.

The mission of the project is to alleviate the area’s ongoing struggle with the availability and affordability of broadband service and boost economic activity.

“This project represents a tremendous opportunity to improve the historic downtown experience in Bledsoe County,” said Sreedhar Upendram, project leader and community development specialist with UT’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. “In addition to providing internet availability and increasing the time residents and visitors spend downtown, this project can also reduce the costs of area businesses and provide flexible payment options for shoppers at the local farmer’s market.”

The city of Pikeville plans to pay for data and maintenance once the project is completed.

Only 25.2 percent of Bledsoe County residents have access to broadband currently, making it the second-most digitally disconnected community in Tennessee.

The long-term goal is to achieve 100 percent digital connectivity for Pikeville and Bledsoe County.