An international online media expert has expressed dismay that Birmingham’s wireless internet service restricts the web pages people can access for free.
Heather Champ, community manager at photo-sharing website Flickr, said she was confused over why Birmingham’s Free Information Zone (Fiz) would only allow users to view council web pages.
Speaking after her keynote presentation at Birmingham’s digital media festival Hello Digital Ms Champ said she was surprised that Fiz was so limiting, as she was told Birmingham was a truly “wireless city”.
Launched in September last year, Fiz offers free wireless internet access to council information such as available car parking spaces, travel information and the location of public toilets. But it does not allow users to access other websites unless they pay for BT OpenZone.
Flickr is a photo-sharing website that sees approximately 52 million visitors every month. The company is based in San Francisco.
Ms Champ said: “What a funny thing to do, to say ‘here’s the internet’ but then ‘here is where you can go’.
“If you are limiting people to only accessing the internet in a certain way, it may not be what they need and/or want.In Flickr we try to build this really elastic platform so that people can use it for what they want.”
Likening Fiz to “having a super freeway but with only one exit”, Ms Champ added she hoped it was the first phase towards a more open network in the city – similar to ones that exist in the US.
Chris Price, director of Digital Birmingham – the organisation overseeing Birmingham Fiz, said they were working hard to provide better wireless Internet access to residents.
He added: “Birmingham is unique in that the city council negotiated with BT for the provision of a free information zone.
“We are at the beginning of our journey into wireless connectivity – it is still work in progress. We’re really excited about how it will develop in the future.
“The ambition is about developing on-the-go solutions, which will provide a better service for all who live, work and visit Birmingham.”
He said there was also a project in Aston to provide cheap wireless internet to residents.