Want/need free Wi-Fi network – do we???

The proposal would bring social and economic benefits and help brand Dunedin as a “technology savvy city”…

### ODT Online Mon, 20 Jul 2009
Free wireless zones for city proposed
By Chris Morris

Plans for a free wireless internet network in Dunedin could soon mean people logging on over lattes in the Octagon.
Read more

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DCC Economic Development Committee meeting
Tuesday 21 July 2009, Edinburgh Room, Municipal Chambers, starting 2pm

Agenda – EDC – 21/07/2009 (PDF, 14.8 kb, new window)

Report – EDC – 21/07/2009 (PDF, 64.2 kb, new window)
Dunedin Free Internet

See also:

Report – EDC – 21/07/2009 (PDF, 44.0 kb, new window)
Dunedin City Digital Communications Strategy Update of Proposal

26 Comments

Filed under Economics, Geography, Inspiration, Media

26 responses to “Want/need free Wi-Fi network – do we???

  1. Anon

    And if you make your living from providing Internet in an Internet cafe, you do what…? Does the Council rock up and pay you a subsidy for competing directly against you?

  2. LG

    Different markets I think. Internet cafes are frequented by travellers without laptops, people interested in using Skype-style services (you’d never see someone in a normal cafe phoning overseas for hours on end), or for playing games.
    With the advent of netbooks, I also wonder whether internet cafes, like street payphones, are going to become a thing of the past.

  3. Free wi-fi is a staple of so many cafes in Vancouver, it’s the norm to have this service provided free.

    LG I disagree, travellers these day do have their laptops with them, and yes in the Vancouver experience they use them to skype back home free.

    Netbooks aren’t going to be the way of the immediate future, so in the mean time yes we need a scheme, but this isn’t the model.

    The City will be picking winners and losers in Business, and that is just bizarre.

  4. LG

    Paul. SOME travellers travel with their laptops. I certainly couldn’t be away from mine, but the independent backpacking types are more divided on this still I think, and they’re the type of people I’ve typically seen in internet cafes (at least before I got a laptop). These are the type of people who I’d wonder whether might end up netbook-armed.

    I think it also depends a lot on the laptop. I have an ultraportable, and while its not as light as I’d like, it makes it a pretty easy choice. I’m just going by anecdote here, but people I know with ~$1000 14-15″ laptops are much less likely to tote them round on holiday.

  5. As you say it’s all anecdotal, but travelling around the world, I wasn’t far from my MacBookPro (which isn’t a small machine), but then for me the iPhone has usurped that considerably.

    But these are side issues really, the main issues are,

    1)is it the role of the DCC to essentially become an ISP?
    2)If it is to be an ISP, if someone downloads kiddie porn or other illegal material, it is not only that person, but the ISP which is legally at risk – does the DCC want a massive legal team to defend such risks (even more so under the proposed law changes to ISP responsibilities).
    3) Why such a long trial period?
    4) How come the DCC chooses to unfairly advantage the couple of cafes in the centre of the city at the very real risk of other cafes. I LOVE the coffee at Ironic, but with free wi-fi in the city, I sure as heck will be looking to head to MASH or Nova for a coffee and free web surfing. The DCC is instantly creating winners and loosers – and that should never be the role of council in such matters.
    5) Being a monopoly provider, there is no such thing as competition and cafe owner will quite possibly not be getting the best price for their web connection.

    But for me the biggest issue is that if the DCC enters the market to do such a venture, as I understand its implementation to be, there is actually a risk that this won’t be free and open wi-fi. Already there are suggestions that this be capped, that people pay to login (free?) and that there will be massive login portals flogging off the townsfolk’s wares (massive advertising) to get to the free web. I’ve heard from local providers that they want to do hot-spot login type access – Noooooo!

    It’s very simple. In Vancouver cafe owners choose to provide (or in the case may be, not) free wi-fi for it’s customers. It’s a cost they have identified as rational to their business operations. It attracts a wide range of customers (not all tourists), it’s a fantastic service, it isn’t expensive to run, it’s easy to police (ie control those who sit all day and skype or torrent free), and the patrons love it. I sought out the cafes in Van with free wi-fi (no stupid login pages or advertising), and gave my custom to those companies, because they had an added service to the one they already provided.

    Here in Dunedin, this needs to be a business forward venture, not a DCC thing. If the DCC wants to kick start the local cafes (and libraries etc) into providing this service it should be as simple as

    1) providing grants to businesses to access the hardware (infinitely minimal compared to the scheme planned)
    2) hammer out (if necessary) with local ISP some sort of deal – but I am very loath to suggest this as it provides un-competitive incentives to ISPs to charge like a wounded bull, and
    3) provide a ‘help desk’ arm of the DCC which helps with technical issues.

    If the DCC does this, it’s:
    Creating winners and losers
    Potentially putting a barrier to true free wi-fi
    Creating a monopolistic environment where the best costs for business are not met.

    Here check this resource out, and you will see how vibrant and passionate about free wi-fi Vancouverites are.

    http://vancouver.wifimug.org/index.cgi

  6. Further:

    This WILL NOT lead to the wonderful democratisation of information as suggested in the discussion document.

    The masses from South Dunedin will not be instantly transformed into cafe lizards (Nova – really?), with their laptops, netbooks or iPhones, and suddenly pop into their local cafe offering free wi-fi to check out the DCC’s changes to rubbish collection (or whatever). This person does not exist in that demographic that is for sure.

    We are talking about providing a free service to middle class tech savvy folk, and they are the last who need the tech-gap filled to greater access of democratic processes.

    It’s a confused policy statement with a massively confused set of outcomes.

    Dunedin is not Lawrence, and the lure of free wi-fi will not capture more tourists.

    DONT get me wrong. I love free wi-fi, I’m astonished and exceedingly disappointed that we don’t have free wi-fi, and would dearly love free wi-fi in this city/country, but this is the wrong way, with the wrong tools, creating winners and looers, aimed at the wrong audience with confused outcomes.

    It’s something that business should be offering here as a matter of course.

  7. Stu

    I’ll add to Paul’s comments above. I sat through the EDC meeting yesterday. Full disclosure: I run a local wireless ISP.

    It was clear from the meeting that the proposal had not been thought through. This is disappointing and frustrating given the background work that some of us tried to do via the ICT cluster over the last year.

    As it stands, the proposed service is inequitable. It interferes with the business models of retail outlets within the Octagon and further afield and with the models of ISPs. It exposes Council to legal liability (since Council would be the billpayer and hence the signatory to any ISP Acceptable Use Policy) for any copyright violations, defamation, hacking etc etc.

    The solution does not scale – while the numbers being talked about for the trial are small, larger coverage will require much greater investment and operating cost, not all of which can be met from Council budgets or even the proposed advertising (everyone thinks advertising can pay for free wifi – it can’t, believe me – been there, tried that, not doing it again). Top-end costs? Meraki did free wifi in San Francisco with USD$20M in seed capital and they eat the running cost with 350K customers getting 512Kbps each. To cover Dunedin, 50% market penetration (60K customers) would be around $10M capital and $3.5M annual bandwidth cost (plus help desk, maintenance, depreciation etc on top).

    Technically, there are many, many issues that need to be thrashed out, not all of which can be punted to the ISP that runs the service. For the current market of PDAs and phones that include WiFi capability, the desired characteristic is for seamless access. However, this is hard to achieve safely with a casual hotspot setup.

    Cr Acklin’s comments were spot-on – this is essentially subsidising the cellphone calls of a minority. The market has effectively settled out at around $4/hr, $10/day, $30/month for wide-area wireless access. A far wider impact study would need to be done prior to rolling this out to determine the actual cost to businesses, not just Council, that would result.

    The next Public Forum on Economic Development is on 5th August and the next ICT cluster meeting will have, I believe, representation from the call centre people behind the proposal. These are appropriate venues to shape the proposal into something better. It’s again disappointing that those concerned did not seek the views first of people who have expertise in this area.

  8. Richard

    As Stu indicates above, this can be brought to the next Public Forum on Wednesday 5 August at 2 pm in The Edinburgh Room.

    All those wishing to speak should register their intention to do so with Cath Swale at the DCC by the preceding Thursday, 30 July. Her email is cath.swale@dcc.govt.nz or telephone the DCC.

    Don’t just leave it to one person, numbers count!

    Anyone who has not registered may be able to speak if time permits, those who register nominate the topic and get guaranteed ‘positions at the starting gate’.

    So register early!

    It will be great to have a live topic at the Forum which comes, of course, before council considers the recommendation from the EDC.

    Oh yes! I am sorry I could not be at the EDC meeting yesterday. As Paul knows, my view is essentially the same as that of Cr Acklin and generally accords with what is expressed above.

    And “that’s a take”.

  9. Paul

    Stu

    although we come at this from slightly different angles ISP/End User, we have the same basic assumptions – that this is insanity.

    Thanks so much for adding your comments to this thread, from the mouth of Industry itself is invaluable.

    Richard thanks so much for the email contact, I will be registering to talk.

  10. Richard

    Correction: I should have said, “those who register get guaranteed ‘positions at the starting gate’ after those speaking to the NOMINATED topic.” I am not certain what that is yet but essentially it simply denotes the order of things and anyone registering and confirmed gets to speak on any subject. To date, no one has missed out!

  11. As an old fellow unschooled in the nuances of the “net” I am intrigued by the tech stuff proffered by Paul, LG, Stu and others. What it does suggest to me, is that here again we have the DCC moving into areas in which it has no business being in. As Richard has said, there will be a “gab fest” but they will do it their way anyway.

  12. Unfortunately there is a kernel of a very very good idea in there, how it is expressed and planned for implementation is fraught with danger.

    As big a proponent of including such technologies into the way we think about modern infrastructure. Hence there possibly is a place for the DCC to be involved, but not to this extent and certainly not in this manner.

    Some very poorly advised people on this one.

  13. Richard

    I note that the topic for the FORUM on 5 August is Economic Development and… wait for it … COMMUNICATIONS.

    So guys, you are right in there. Don’t forget to register by next Thursday at 5 pm for a prime starting position! (see Saturday’s DCC Noticeboard in the ODT – early pages (p4).

    Cheers!

  14. Stu

    I’m No. 2 on the runway.

  15. Stu

    It seems that this proposal was initiated by an external 3rd party commercial enterprise, not originated from within DCC as presented.

  16. Stu

    There’s a very good consideration of many of the issues surrounding municipal wi-fi here: https://globotrends.pbworks.com/municipal+wi-f

  17. Stu

    Public Forum on the 5th August was interesting. Some good questions from Councillors about various aspects of the discussion, thanks for that. Paul had some good points from a different perspective, I think between us we covered off everything.

    If I get organized enough, I’ll post the notes of what I put forward. I’m quite pleased to see the positive attitude towards developing a Digital Strategy for the city and there’s a good chance to get something that does set Dunedin apart.

  18. Elizabeth

    ### ODT Online Mon, 10 Aug 2009
    DCC’s free internet plan poses legal risk

    By Chris Morris

    Cyber criminals could exploit plans for a free wireless internet service in Dunedin and leave the Dunedin City Council legally responsible for their nefarious behaviour, an industry expert is warning. The claim was made by Dunedin businessman Stu Fleming.
    Dunedin web designer Paul Le Comte said the Wi-Fi plan risked “picking winners” among the city’s cafes, by encouraging customers to visit those Octagon businesses with free Wi-Fi.
    Read more

  19. As a traveller through New Zealand I was surprised at how few businesses give away internet. In the States it is almost a given that a coffee shop will have free wifi. It is another utility, a part the cost of doing business. Here, where there is wifi available, it seems that every place is through a different billing service: Zenbu, Tomizone, Cafenet, McDonald’s… they are all annoying to set up, and expensive for what you get. New Zealand businesses: give it away, and they will come!

    I was happy to discover http://www.aotearoapeoplesnetwork.org/ in some libraries, and I’m glad that it is coming to Dunedin soon.

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