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News - 17 June 2012

Free street wifi and faster broadband for Brighton & Hove

Smartphone and tablet users in Brighton & Hove could benefit from a big expansion of free outdoor wifi under plans by Brighton & Hove City Council. But it could clash with existing plans from Brighton Visitor.

The authority’s policy and resources committee authorised a bid on Thursday which could net at least £5m of government funding to extend street wifi and ultrafast broadband to benefit both residents and businesses.

Councillors envisage free street wifi being rolled out in central and commercial areas, plus the seafront. Wifi transmitters could be mounted on council buildings and lamp posts.

The authority also wants a number of ultrafast cable broadband sites at locations including New England House, the North Laine Business Quarter, the Lewes Road ‘academic corridor’ and around Brighton and Hove rail stations.

Operating at speeds of at least 80 megabits per second (Mbps), ultrafast broadband offers the most rapid internet connection available - three times quicker than ‘superfast’ broadband, available across 99 per cent of the city.

A successful bid could draw in match funding from broadband companies to provide infrastructure to businesses.

Council leader and chair of the policy and resources committee Cllr. Jason Kitcat said: “A key strength of our economy is creative and digital media industries. But to maintain and grow this we must develop a world-class IT infrastructure".

“That means the fastest-possible internet connections and making these available more widely – including to people on the move. So spending a relatively small sum on this bid could reap massive returns in government and private sector investment – and ultimately, in jobs.”

The council is working with Wired Sussex to outline the business case for the bid.

£150,000 was allocated to the bid by the committee at its meeting last Thursday. The money has become available from a recently-reported underspend from the last financial year. Exact costs are not yet established but any surplus would go back into council coffers. Funding would be needed for specialist technical expertise and legal costs.

A bid will be submitted in September, with results expected in the government’s Autumn Statement. Local company Brighton Visitor has been working on a similar project for some time combining a free visitor app with free wifi connectivity in the city centre.


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