Public Wi-Fi is a vehicle for social inclusion, bringing community together, building creative capacity and driving business growth. But even today, this vision for Public Wi-Fi rarely materialises as reality. Decision makers often see Public Wi-Fi from a promotional point of view without being clear about being clear about their intentions for Public Wi-Fi. We believe that it does not have to be this way. Public Wi-Fi is a critical enabler for communities and here we explore how this may be achieved – following on from the Implementing Public Wi-Fi Services for Local Government report we developed for the Municipal Association of Victoria in 2015.
Bringing community together
In 2016, we were commissioned by an local government authority to provide options for introducing Public Wi-Fi across the municipality. Where tourism is the predominant industry and backhaul to the internet of any significant capacity is expensive, a unique solution was needed. What we came up with was an extension of the Public Wi-Fi model implemented in Goulburn and established by The Goulburn Group. This community Wi-Fi was implemented as a partnership between local businesses, a local ISP, the chamber of commerce and Council. Local businesses in a zone along the foreshore were encouraged to share a portion of their internet bandwidth for Public Wi-Fi, Council purchased mesh enabled Access Points (like those offered by Open Mesh), and the local ISP setup and configured the Access Points and enabled each business to offer the service under their own terms (unlimited, or timed downloads or downloads to a limit, access through a ticket provided on purchase, etc). For Council, this solution was ideal in that it could be provided at low cost (each Access Point was around $175US), could be offered at low risk, and plays to Council’s strengths being the catalyst of community capacity building. During a trial of the solution in the main coastal destination in the Shire, they observed:
- Very cost effective, easy to manage and easy to expand.
- Results have seen 30,000 to 50,000 connections per month. There were 19,000 halfway through July 2016, which includes school holidays and mid-winter.
- Businesses have people congregating around their businesses which is adding to their business.
- The solution is also bringing the community and tourists together, and promotes the Shire as a connected community.
This case study was not only a demonstration of the power of Public Wi-Fi, but how technology can bring different groups together.