Work has begun on expanding Canberra’s free public Wi-Fi network, more than three years after it was recommended by a peak social service body.
ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) CEO Dr Emma Campbell welcomed the expansion of the network to cover every Canberra town centre, 16 group centres and a number of popular community locations and businesses, but said the rollout was long overdue.
“The expansion of Canberra’s free public Wi-Fi was recommended by ACTCOSS in 2017 following a study of telecommunications affordability and digital inclusion in the ACT,” Dr Campbell said
“ACTCOSS has long advocated for free public Wi-Fi to outer suburban locations to provide greater access to government and commercial services for those most in need and at risk of digital exclusion.”
The expansion will extend the network in Belconnen, Gungahlin, Tuggeranong, and the Woden, Weston Creek and Molonglo regions.
The download limit is being increased from 250MB to 1GB per day per device to allow people to browse the internet for around 12 hours, stream 200 songs or watch two hours of video.
“It seems like a long time ago – and it was three years ago – that we sat down with ACT Government staff to begin to map where there was the greatest community need for Canberra’s free public Wi-Fi. We expect that there are still gaps that need to be filled and we encourage the ACT Government to continue to fill those gaps,” Dr Campbell said.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the rollout of free wi-fi will create more jobs and support local businesses in town centres and local shopping precincts.
“During COVID-19, internet access has been particularly vital, with the ACT Government providing free internet access to around 600 ACT public school students studying from home who did not already have access,” Mr Barr said.
“The ACT’s CBRfree network currently involves 334 Wireless Access Points (WAPs) across the territory, giving commuters, businesses, students and visitors widespread access.
“This will be increased to 415 when the network is complete. iiNet also provides an additional 63 indoor WAPs located in business premises across Canberra.”
The CBRfree Wi-Fi network will also support a range of smart city initiatives, including support to 30 CCTV cameras that will provide greater security.
CBRfree public Wi-Fi is already available around the town centres of Belconnen, Gungahlin, Tuggeranong, Civic and Woden, as well as a number of group centres and community locations including the Canberra Theatre, Belconnen Arts Centre, EPIC, Cooleman Court, Botanic Gardens, Kingston Foreshore, Tuggeranong Basketball Stadium and Stromlo Forest Park.
The network will now be extended to further parts of Gungahlin, as well as the group centres of Amaroo, Calwell, Chisholm, Erindale, Hawker, Jamison, Kaleen, Kambah, Kingston, Kippax, Lanyon, Mawson and Wanniassa. Belconnen Basketball Centre will also be covered.
The rollout of additional locations will be undertaken between now and the end of June 2021.
This announcement comes on the eve of a national report on telecommunications affordability for waged poor households released by the South Australian Council of Social Service and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network. The report recommends that governments provide greater access to fast, reliable public Wi-Fi, in outer suburbs, not just city centres.
“National research released today by our colleagues at SACOSS has found that a quarter of waged poor households use public Wi-Fi to access the internet, but many found that it can be slow, unreliable, difficult to access and sometimes pose security issues,” Dr Campbell said.
“The Canberrans interviewed by ACTCOSS as part of this research who used the service said they found Canberra’s free public Wi-Fi more reliable. The research also highlights the important role of public libraries in addressing digital exclusion.
“The local and national research both highlight that it is also important that this service provides secure access to users. This is particularly important when users are accessing government, banking or online shopping services that require a secure login and/or the provision of sensitive personal information.
“We will continue to advocate for the ACT Government to provide greater access to fast, reliable public Wi-Fi – particularly in areas with the greatest need, and we encourage the government to advertise it in a way that distinguishes it from commercial networks.”