UK Communities Awarded Free Wi-Fi Access

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Communities across the UK have been awarded free Wi-Fi access, but BT has questioned the ability of wireless to plug holes in broadband coverage

Public Wi-Fi specialist Freerunner has announced plans to provide 46 communities across the UK with free wireless access for around three years.

In a statement released this week, Freerunner announced that it will use a combination of broadband, satellite and 3G technology to provide wireless access to communities that currently have limited Internet access. The decision to provide the access for free was based on a competition launched in September which received around 500 entries from deserving groups around the UK.

“The Freerunner mission is to give everyone free access to fast Wi-Fi whether you are in a coffee shop in the West End of London or a community centre in the suburbs of Newcastle,” says Owen Geddes, chief executive of Freerunner. “We wanted to start with those most in need so we put the call out and the response was pretty overwhelming. It is incredible to think that a small piece of relatively low cost technology is going to fundamentally change nearly 50 communities across the UK.

The free wireless services are being funded by public and private sector sponsors according to Freerunner including broadband provider BE. Freerunner has also received initial funding from NorthStar Equity and the North East will be the first to benefit from the roll-out.

“Many people in our area have never been online and know little about IT,” said one of the recipients, Ian Johnson, project leader for the Black Country Learning Academy. “Freerunner’s WiFi means we can set up new Internet enabled computers allowing us to run more literacy, numeracy, IT and UK-Online courses, improving the employment prospects of people across the region”.

Wireless technologies have been proposed by the Government’s Broadband Britain report as a major means to fill in the gaps in the UK’s broadband provision. But some companies such as BT have questioned whether wireless is really the best way to tackle the issue. “Some wireless technologies will struggle,” said BT’s group strategy director Dr Tim Whitley.

Although wireless has been suggested as a means to reach communities that cannot get broadband over their phone lines, it may not be able to deliver the right sort of performance, Whitley said in an interview.

Earlier this month, the government’s controversial proposal for a 50p-per-month broadband tax was approved by chancellor Alistair Darling in his pre-Budget report. Under the scheme, anyone with a fixed line phone will be obliged to pay the tax, which will be used to provide super-fast broadband to 90 percent of UK households by the end of 2017.


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