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Vaizey: Public-building wi-fi cash will keep cities 'internationally competitive'

Thursday, October 30th 2014 by Dean Reilly

Plans to provide free wi-fi in 1,000 public buildings will help the UK compete on the international stage, Ed Vaizey has said.

Speaking as the government announced its plans for free public wi-fi hotspots in 16 cities the digital minister told Cable.co.uk: “This is tremendous news for cities around the UK and a recognition of the growing importance of connectivity on the go.

"Government is determined to ensure our cities remain internationally competitive and attractive places to invest, visit and do business.

"This programme will transform the digital landscape of the cities involved, and be welcomed by residents, businesses and tourists alike.”

Launched in December 2013 the superconnected cities fund, which also supplies connection vouchers to businesses, will cover the cost of free wi-fi in selected public buildings. Although the scheme is open until March 2015, only £20 million of the £150 million fund has been spent so far, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Commenting on the announcement, the FSB's national chairman John Allan said the organisation "remains concerned that the £150 million superconnected cities fund won’t be spent by the 31 March deadline".

“It is good that government is now taking steps to spend more of this budget, but we believe the most economically beneficial way to do this would be to target unspent funds on connecting business parks and enterprise zones.

“Government must be more ambitious in rolling superfast broadband out to small businesses as there continues to be a significant unmet need which is hindering UK competitiveness," he added.

However, business park and industrial estate specialist ISP Warwicknet said the government’s plan to spend money from the super connected cities fund to provide free wi-fi into public buildings such as libraries and museums, is "to be welcomed".

"The voucher scheme has been an uphill challenge. Encouraging businesses to apply for a voucher and then approach ISPs has not worked as it was expected to do.

"This is largely because it is too circuitous and cumbersome for small enterprises to navigate when they are trying to run a business and they lack a dedicated administrative resource," Warwicknet CEO Ben King told us.

"This move is also more transparent and democratic in that the public get the service directly and it also encourages people to use facilities that have suffered in recent years from under-subscription.

"Increasing footfall because of better connectivity and more interactivity in our public spaces levels the playing field and is a step towards a fairer society where everyone has access to free wi-fi."

Public buildings included in the free wi-fi rollout include libraries, museums, civic centres, transport hubs and sporting complexes. Although not all of the premises are wi-fi enabled yet, DCMS stated the service is on schedule and will hit the target of 1,000 connected buildings by March 2015.

The UK cities who will receive free public wi-fi are Aberdeen, Belfast, Brighton & Hove, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Derby, Derry, Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford, London, Manchester, Oxford, Perth, Portsmouth and Salford.

Additional reporting by Hannah Langston

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