Council to move forward with free Wi-Fi plan for Sheffield city centre

Sheffield could get free city centre Wi-Fi.
Sheffield could get free city centre Wi-Fi.
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Councillors have agreed to push ahead with a free public Wi-Fi service for Sheffield city centre.

The decision to invite offers to run the service was made at yesterday’s cabinet meeting, where councillors said they were ‘excited’ about the potential of the project.

The idea was brought forward by the Sheffield Business Improvement District, or Bid.

Edward Highfield, director of the council’s business arm Creative Sheffield, told councillors the idea was to offer an ‘attractive and animated’ experience for visitors and residents.

He said: “The council is best placed to offer the physical platform. We want to work with the Bid and others, for them to provide the software to benefit visitors, residents and shoppers.

“The provider would gain some commercial opportunities and in return may be willing to provide us with a free city centre Wi-Fi network.

“That’s the model that is being used successfully elsewhere.”

Mr Highfield said the council had already spoken to about a dozen possible providers to canvass interest, from major companies to firms based in Sheffield.

He said each bid to run a Wi-Fi network would be judged on several criteria, but the key was that it was free to use, both for the individual and the council.

Responding to questions from councillors, he said: “It being free to the end user is a principle. It’s not about charging people and giving away a lot of personal data.

“It’s got to be easy, convenient and reliable. If it’s not, that will defeat the object.”

The council would offer lamp posts and other objects for the successful provider to use. The aim is to cover outdoor areas inside the city ring road.

“It has to be the whole city centre as defined by the Bid,” said Mr Highfield.

“It’s not about cherry-picking other areas.”

Coun Jayne Dunn asked about digital inclusion, and what measures would be taken to ensure anyone could get online.

Mr Highfield said it was a key consideration, adding: “We could have a brilliant Wi-Fi network but if no-one is using it then it won’t be worthwhile.”

Should an appropriate bidder come forward, a contract up to 10 years long could be awarded in June. The service could launch in December.

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