Melbourne council to offer free WiFi

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Melbourne council to offer free WiFi

Darebin City Council dares to offer free access.

A Melbourne council plans to spend $45,000 on a free wireless hotspot trial to target the 40 percent of local residents who don't have home internet access.

Darebin City Council will set up two internet hotspots in the town square and shopping and dining district over the next few years, according to local councillor Gaetano Greco, who pitched the plan after studying free wi-fi projects at several councils in American and European cities.

Gaetano's global study tour was funded by a fellowship from the Municipal Assocation of Victoria.

Greco told iTnews that Darebin City Council will proceed with its trial cautiously to avoid mistakes made by overseas councils offering free wi-fi.

"What happened in the past was promises were made, sometimes very outlandish, that everyone wil be hooked up and wired up and have access to this signal," Greco said.

"We want to do it well and properly, so there's no stuff-ups at the demonstration stage. If we can't get that right and do that properly, how are we going to move the project further than that?

"This is something new for councils... We want to wrap this around the other stakeholders in the process, clearly articulating what the service is used for."

He mentioned similar projects are being carried out by councils in Melbourne, Geelong and Perth.

He said the council's aim was to provide basic internet services to people that can't afford to engage with an ISP. 

Studies have shown that 40 percent of the Darebin community doesn't access the internet at home, particularly among a relatively high concentration of low-income residents, according to Greco..

"It's the age factor - older residents don't use computers as much - and also economic reasons," he said. "Some people can't afford expensive contracts with service providers. We noticed that many of our residents use our library services, which are already a hotspot.

"In the 21st century, this is they type of infrastructure councils should be considering. We should be asking whether this should be thought of as a future council utility."

He did not have any take-up targets but said that overseas projects showed it was rare for over fifty percent of residents to use free wi-fi services.

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