Latest smart city must-have? Free Wi-Fi expands

Tue, 2013-05-07 11:51 -- Jesse Berst

Free public Wi-Fi has been a luxury until recently. Now we see evidence that it is gradually becoming a must-have, at least for those cities that hope to attract high-income technology professionals. For instance, Mountain View, California - home to Google - has had a free citywide network for years. And the Silicon Valley city of Santa Clara recently announced the intention to do the same. Here is more evidence of the trend. -- Jesse Berst


Google and the city of Austin, Texas hammered out an agreement  to deploy an ultra-high-speed Google Fiber network that was unveiled in April. But now the American-Statesman reports that Google also plans to build a "significant Wi-Fi network that would cover parts of the city and extend the reach of its broadband project in Austin to include mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptop computers."

A city official confirmed to the Statesman that Google envisions a free service open to all users.

In Florida, the trend seems to be for cities to extend Wi-Fi – often available in public libraries and other city buildings already – to city parks. The Sun-Sentinel reports that several cities in Broward and Palm Beach counties are expanding or considering expansion of free Wi-Fi into public outdoor spaces.

"It gives everyone an opportunity to stay connected with the world," Coral Springs IT Director Curlie Matthews told the Sun-Sentinel.

An interesting trial in Boston this summer will see a match-up of new and old – free Wi-Fi will be broadcast from 16 existing pay phones. By the end of the summer of 2014 the plan is to have 400 pay phones in the program, according to Boston.com. The first locations for the Internet hotspots will be in downtown Boston and areas that attract a lot of commuters. But the report says the goal is to extend it to pay phones in low-income neighborhoods where people may not be able to afford their own Internet service.

And finally, the South China Morning Post reports that free toilets, water and Wi-Fi are being used to lure tourists back to the historic city of Fenghuang in the Hunan province, after a move to require an entrance fee to the city backfired and tourism dropped off dramatically.