Free Internet access in the UK has leaped forward, with the announcement by Islington Council that its 'Technology Mile' has gone live. This 'mile' is located in Upper Street, Islington and provides free wireless broadband access to residents, visitors and businesses in the area.
To access the service all you need is a Wi-Fi enabled computing device. The area is apparently an area with a throng of cafes, pubs and bars. The second stage of the project will be to supply computers to businesses in the area, so that customers can use these for free access.
The project addresses the issue of digital divide very well, particularly by providing public access for all, since a computer or laptop will be outside the price bracket of many. The benefit to the council will hopefully be that people will use the connection to pay their various council bills, and it may help to increase business in the area.
One risk with schemes like this is that it may reduce the demand for commercial services in the area. There is the chance that residents will give up their monthly subscription broadband services for this free service - though how many will depend on how reliable and fast the Council service proves to be. The United States has actually seen commercial providers get legislation passed to curb the growth of free or low-cost municipal broadband services in some states, such is the perceived commercial risk.
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