Free wi-fi could be installed in more than 150 public buildings and spaces in Birmingham, from health centres to parks, following the award of a £1.5 million grant to improve broadband access.
A list of buildings to have the technology installed is being drawn up by council officers and is likely to include sports arenas, markets, community centres, libraries, children’s centres and museums.
The aim is to provide simple wi-fi access in places frequently used by the general public.
In total, 152 buildings are being considered to receive improved infrastructure, subject to a survey by private contractor Service Birmingham to ensure they are suitable.
Council officers say that the service will be similar to free wi-fi offered in commercial premises like restaurants, cafes and shopping centres.
Labour cabinet member for a smart city Coun James McKay said: “By introducing this simple measure, we will be able to make a big impact in the fight against digital exclusion.
“It will remove the barriers that prevent people from seeking job opportunities, enable easier access to education and training information and make it as simple as possible to interact with public services through the wide range of self-serve options which are quickly becoming the norm.
“The government says it expects most people to manage their Universal Credit accounts online once their changes to the benefit system are fully implemented, and we know people in Birmingham have lower internet access rates than most other places – it means making the internet available in as many places as possible is going to quickly become essential.
“This project is also one of the recommended actions within the recently published Smart City Roadmap, that outlines the measures we should implement in the next three years to make the best use of the resources we have to meet the challenges faced by society here in Birmingham.” The £1.5 million investment comes from the £8.25 million Urban Broadband Fund grant given by government to the city council last year. The remaining funding has already been earmarked for the Birmingham Connectivity Voucher Scheme (BCVS), through which city businesses can apply for vouchers to connect of superfast broadband to their premises.
The city council’s IT provider Service Birmingham will undertake the feasibility study into the 152 public buildings and appoint a wi-fi provider for the roll-out.
The surveys will be carried out next month and installation set to start in May and the entire project completed by next March.
According to the latest statistics people in Birmingham have significantly lower internet access than most other cities – 76 per cent compared to the Great Britain average of 83 per cent.
With the growth of smart phone and iPad or tablet use the project sees wi-fi hotspots in public places as a means of expanding easy internet access.
Officials see lack of internet access as a key barrier to finding employment as a growing number of job searches and applications are now online.
Last November the city council and Virgin Media launched free wi-fi in the city centre with wireless hotspot transmitters mounted on lampposts and other street furniture in some of Birmingham’s busiest locations, including Victoria Square and Moor Street.