Wednesday, May 9, 2018

News: Council uploads plan for free Wi-Fi in Rotherham town centre

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Rotherham Council is pushing ahead with plans to get up to speed and offer free Wi-Fi in the town centre.

Rothbiz reported first at the end of 2017 that the authority was looking at free Wi-Fi as part of a range of measures to try and stimulate footfall and support existing businesses as they wait for the catalyst projects in the new masterplan to revive the town centre.

Currently free Wi-Fi in the town centre is only available in specific buildings or retail / leisure outlets. For example, at Rotherham Council's Riverside House and the library, Tesco, McDonald's and Wetherspoons.

Sheffield Council recently confirmed the implementation of free, public-access Wi-Fi as part of the Business Improvement District (BID) plans for encouraging visitors, residents and employees to spend more time in the city. It has selected Idaq Networks to provide the service.

Rotherham is hoping to follow suit with a scheme designed to include no or minimal upfront or ongoing investment by the authority. A concession contract would see a private company install superfast and ultrafast broadband equipment in exchange for providing the bidder with exclusive use of council-owned street lights and street furniture for wireless communications.

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As well as covering the main town centre shopping district, the proposal would also cover public open spaces such as Clifton Park.

As opposed to a council funded public access Wi-Fi service, the concession contract requires no investment from the authority and "enables the Council to provide a public access Wi-Fi service and to use limited budgets elsewhere."

Schemes in other areas, such as York and Leeds, have secured external funding for similar projects, but these funding pots no longer exist.

Rotherham Council's cabinet and commissioners are set to consider the proposal at their decision-making meeting on May 21 and if approved, tendering could start in June. The service is timetabled to be online in March 2019.

Soft market testing has been carried out and identified that there is interest and that the Council can expect to receive bids.

Cllr. Denise Lelliott, cabinet member for jobs and the local economy at Rotherham Council, said: "In our increasingly digital age, people like to use social media and the internet on the go. A key priority for the Council is to extend prosperity and as the town centre repositions itself as a leisure destination, there will be more people living and socialising in the town centre.

"Free Wi-Fi in public spaces and public buildings will really help residents and tourists connect with each other and stay in touch with local events, making the town centre a more vibrant destination and supporting local businesses to thrive and grow."

Other ideas being developed to support the town centre include parking incentives, proposals to incentivise new shop traders to move into the town, the introduction of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), marketing and promotion and opportunities for "meanwhile uses" and window/frontage treatments.

Images: Google Maps

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