news The Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne today announced plans to source a provider from the private sector to provide free Wi-Fi access in the city’s central business district, despite the fact that Australia’s existing mobile broadband networks are already providing reliable wireless access, and despite the fact that similar projects have failed in other states.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine together with the Minister for Technology Gordon Rich-Phillips and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle today announced Expressions of Interests (EOIs) to deliver free Public Wi-Fi in central Melbourne.
Napthine said the ‘Public Wi-Fi’ initiative aimed to create a consistent Wi-Fi experience, expanding broadband connectivity to boost productivity, service delivery and quality of life for residents and visitors. It would also help draw more businesses and entrepreneurs to Victoria, he said.
“As the first step, the initiative aims to pilot fast, reliable and free Wi-Fi services in central Melbourne, in and around publicly owned infrastructure, including public transport hubs and tourist attractions for the next three to five years,” Napthine said. “Providing free public Wi-Fi in the city is part of the State Government’s agenda to build a better Victoria. These networks will be delivered in partnership between the Government, the City of Melbourne and the private sector.
“We are encouraging innovative expressions of interest that will ensure a reliable, sustainable free service that is also filtered for prohibited and undesirable content. All responses will be assessed on their commercial viability with strong preference given to proposals where there is no ongoing cost to government, beyond any potential initial investment to establish the infrastructure. Government investment could include direct grants or in-kind contributions like advertising, sponsorship and priority access to public infrastructure and facilities.”
Doyle said that as the economy changes from a traditional manufacturing base to a knowledge base, tools like Wi-Fi become critical. “More free Wi-Fi in the city is great for residents, visitors and tourists,” Doyle said.
Rich-Phillips said the EOI process would provide the Victorian Government with a better understanding of the supplier market and available solutions as it develops a business model, leveraging public infrastructure to roll out more Public Wi-Fi networks across the State.
“The Public Wi-Fi initiative will support small businesses, improve the tourism experience, assist our education sector, and further strengthen Victoria as Australia’s leading technology state,” Rich-Phillips said. “The provision of free Wi-Fi at Flinders Street Station has been a success and we are looking to provide this amenity more broadly.”
Expressions of Interest are open from Wednesday 12 March to Thursday 17 April 2014. The Government expects to award contracts in mid-2014. This process is the first stage in a larger roll-out of public Wi-Fi.
The news comes despite the fact that other similar projects have failed over the years. In May 2008, for example, the NSW government scrapped two-year-old plans to offer free Wi-Fi in Sydney, citing spiralling costs and overseas failures for killing the project. Another factor has been the rapid development of mobile broadband networks in Australia, which usually offer superior speeds to public Wi-Fi services in Australia, combined with greater coverage and flexibility.
Some smaller, niche Wi-Fi projects have still gone ahead over the years, although it is unclear to what extent they are being utilised. For example, Sydney has deployed free Wi-Fi access to Sydney ferries. And the City of Parramatta in Sydney’s West has also deployed Wi-Fi in its region. In August 2013, ISP Internode announced a $1.5 million contract with the South Australian government to more than double the free wireless internet coverage available within the Adelaide CBD.
The evidence shows that free Wi-Fi networks set up by governments usually go unused, are costly, and merely duplicate services already better provided by the private sector. I have no idea why the Victorian Government is seeking to waste its money on such an initiative. We live in an era of ubiquitous and affordable mobile broadband coverage. Free Wi-Fi is no longer a necessary attribute of a major Australian city.