Does London even need free Wi-Fi?


Does London even need free Wi-Fi?

Boris Johnson made headlines today after appearing on BBC London radio saying that he hopes to roll-out WiFi coverage to the entire city. What a noble aim, considering the importance of the internet today and the fact that not everyone can afford the cost of home connections. It’s precisely the sort of thing that can win support in the short term, but it’s never going to happen.

“They’ve done it in other parts of the world; why on earth can’t we do it?” he asked.

Because it will cost a fortune, Boris, that’s why. An investment in infrastructure that big would cost millions, hundreds of millions. There’s little point in it, either, as 3G mobile broadband continues to fall in price. Londoners won’t be happy paying for a costly organised network in extra taxes when £10 per month per person could solve the problem instantly. Just look at the animosity towards the ever-increasing Olympic budget if you need proof.

Nonetheless, the problem remains; there are hundreds of thousands of people in the capital without internet access, and it’s vital that this is rectified. It’s just that Wi-Fi is not the answer.

Not to mention the problem that would arise if Boris does splash free Wi-Fi all over London; a handful of livid companies marching to City Hall to ask who’s going to refund their considerable investment in commercial hotspots.

Gordon Brown is tackling the subject in another way with his £300 million voucher scheme, but Johnson has criticised this as being “a bit like a desperate bribe by the Prime Minister.” As opposed to a desperate bribe from the Mayor, eh, Boris?

I see Brown’s plan as an honest gesture and an important step in slowing the halt of the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots in this country. Internet access is now so important that it needs to be available to everyone, and the scheme seems like a reasonably sensible way to go about it – by paying for broadband connections and home PCs.

Personally I think that the money would be better spent in extra funding for libraries, where internet access can be had for free by anyone motivated enough to seek it out, but I’d rather see Brown’s plan implemented than Johnson’s.

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