Wellington first for free wi-fi

DAVE BURGESS
Last updated 08:57 26/05/2011

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Wellington will become the first city in New Zealand to provide free wireless internet – wi-fi – across most of its central business district, with a council-run network starting before the Rugby World Cup.

All internet sites will be accessible with the network but Wellington City Council could block some if problems emerge.

The council will provide $80,000 to establish the network and $216,000 a year to maintain it, but hopes to recover money through sponsorship of its access page.

The network will be available in most of the area from Waitangi Park and Courtenay Place to Westpac Stadium, as well as Cuba St. Tourist spots will be added later, including the zoo and Zealandia. The network is designed for outdoor use at ground level in public places but should work through glass in some areas.

Each free wi-fi session can last up to 30 minutes but users can log on more than once.

The network would be prioritised for web browsing and email traffic to avoid users streaming or downloading large files and disadvantaging others.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said free wi-fi was a "significant step in our city's evolution to a creative digital city".

It will go live in August, shortly before more than 25,000 Rugby World Cup fans start arriving.

"It shows we can foot it with the most digitally advanced cities around the world. It will be a great opportunity to look smart, and well connected, for our business and tourist visitors," Ms Wade-Brown said.

Broadband provider Citylink, which also provides the ad-free, pay wi-fi network CafeNet, will partner the council.

Internet cafe Cybernomad's owner Wayne Hu said he had no idea the free service was launching and was worried it would affect his business.

"Right now I have my own wi-fi hotspots in my shop, so if it's free, then no income for me."

Some customers would still come in to play games and use the printer but many people simply used the cafe to surf the net and check emails.

With many people owning internet-capable cellphones and tablets it was unlikely they would pay to connect when they could get a reliable service free, he said.

The council's strategy adviser, Philippa Bowron, said there were no plans to block potentially offensive internet sites through content filtering.

"We don't feel it is the role of council to censor content, and it hasn't been an issue to date with the Trade Me ... waterfront wi-fi [launched in January].

"However, we have reserved the right in our agreement with Citylink to implement filtering at a later date if it becomes a problem."

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McDonald's was criticised this year for blocking access to gay and lesbian-related websites from its free wi-fi service launched in its outlets nationwide in December.

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT

Wi-fi, an abbreviation of wireless fidelity, is a networking system that uses radio waves to enable electronic devices to connect without using wires.

Wellington's central city wi-fi will allow wi-fi-enabled devices to freely connect with the internet from anywhere outdoors within the designated area.

These devices include smartphones, laptop computers, iPads and other electronic tablets, game consoles and digital audio players, although the system will be prioritised to prevent streaming or downloading large files.

It will provide free outdoor internet access in most of the CBD.

It will be used primarily to access emails, social networking and internet sites.

It will allow sessions of up to 30 minutes.

It will permit users to log-on multiple times.

It will be open to users without needing to sign up for an account or give any form of personal/payment information.

- The Dominion Post

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