Free Wi-Fi: Wi not?

OFFERING free Wi-Fi internet in Orange’s central business district would be a tourist drawcard, according to councillor Ash Brown.

Cr Brown said he saw firsthand the popularity and convenience of free public internet access on his recent trip to America where it was available everywhere.

“We get asked for it in our cafe and we have it, but imagine if the city had it,” he said.

Cr Brown wants Orange City Council to look at how much it would cost to provide free Wi-Fi in four or five of the main CBD blocks, including Robertson Park and the civic centre.

“I’m not sure of the costs but it would be offset by the extra tourism,” he said.

“Whether we can do the whole city for the same price as four blocks.”

Numerous inner-city Sydney councils began trialling free Wi-Fi in council-owned facilities, including aquatic centres, last year.

Cr Brown expects within five to 10 years a lot of cities would offer it free, but Orange could lead the way.

The lure of free internet could also bring more residents, especially those without Wi-Fi at home, into the CBD, benefiting businesses.

“They could be spending money at shops,” Cr Brown said.

Corporate and commercial services director Kathy Woolley said the library already offered free Wi-Fi, but Cr Brown suggested it should be better advertised on the signs on the outskirts of the city to make the public aware.

Wi-Fi access to be rolled out in the council chambers later this year will be available to the public, council spokesman Nick Redmond said.

Central West Libraries technical services librarian Ros Dorsman said Wi-Fi internet access at the library was already popular with travellers, who were often referred by the Visitor Information Centre.

“We’ve had a huge influx of backpackers,” she said.

“In December 2012 we handed out twice as many wireless tickets because the fruit-picking season was a lot better than 2011.

“They bring in their own devices. It used to be only laptops but now it’s tablets, iPads and things we’ve never even seen before.”

Users must sign a conditions of use form before they are given a ticket to access the library’s Wi-Fi connection for two hours at a time with a maximum download of 500 megabytes.

“Over the Christmas break we had as many as 85 people on the system, but the more you get, it does slow it down,” Ms Dorsman said.

“We also find that in the school terms more and more students come in with their own devices.”

Four of the seven Central West Libraries’ branches, including Orange, Blayney, Cowra, and Forbes, offer free Wi-Fi while the others only offer internet access on the libraries’ desktop computers.

Ms Dorsman said Wi-Fi at the libraries was partially funded by the State Library of NSW.

“One of the benefits we’ve found is that more and more people rely on online information and it means we don’t have to provide banks and banks of desktops in the libraries,” she said.

She said users rarely misused the service.

clare.colley@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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