Alton resident Axel Cuevas is studying computer information technology at South Texas College.

“Basically most of my school is online,” Cuevas said.

Before last year, Cuevas would have to complete all of his schoolwork at STC’s campus, but not anymore.

Cuevas is part of about 30 percent of Alton residents who have free wireless internet provided by the city, thanks to a partnership between the city and local business owner, Gilberto De los Santos of Wi-Fi 4 U.

“It’s no longer a luxury, it’s becoming a necessity,” De los Santos said about internet access.

De los Santos says he started his company, Wi-Fi 4 U, as a way to provide low-cost internet connection to areas that lack internet access.

“I started working with schools and cities, and I felt there was such a need here that there was an opportunity to help,” De los Santos said.

Last year, the city contracted Wi-Fi 4 U to install equipment to launch its pilot program. The antennas can be seen on the city’s water tower and behind city hall. The $1.4 million project paid for by Wi-Fi 4 U will have four phases over the next four years.

Businesses say they are benefiting from the Wi-Fi program because they no longer have to rely on expensive options.

“It was going to cost us $8,000 just to get the lines here to get internet,” said David Aguirre, manager and co-owner of a Stars Drive-in restaurant across from Alton’s city hall.