Government finally delivers on ACTCOSS call for free public WiFi network

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has welcomed the ACT Government’s long overdue announcement that it will expand Canberra’s free public WiFi network to additional suburbs.

This announcement came on the eve of a national report on telecommunications affordability for waged poor households released by the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN). The report Connectivity costs II: telecommunications affordability and waged poor households recommends that governments need to provide greater access to fast, reliable public WiFi – in outer suburbs, not just city centres.

ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell, said: “The expansion of Canberra’s free public WiFi was recommended by ACTCOSS in 2017 following a study of telecommunications affordability and digital inclusion in the ACT. This is a long-awaited but welcome announcement.

“ACTCOSS have long advocated for free public WiFi to outer suburban locations to provide greater access to government and commercial services for those most in need and at risk of digital exclusion. This expansion goes some way to addressing this need, extending the network in Belconnen, Gungahlin, Tuggeranong, and the Woden/Weston Creek/Molonglo regions.

“National research released today by our colleagues at SACOSS has found that a quarter of waged poor households use public WiFi to access the internet, but many found that it can be slow, unreliable, difficult to access and sometimes pose security issues. The Canberrans interviewed by ACTCOSS as part of this research who used the service said they found Canberra’s free public WiFi more reliable. The research also highlights the important role of public libraries in addressing digital exclusion.

“The local and national research both highlight that it is also important that this service provides secure access to users. This is particularly important when users are accessing government, banking or online shopping services that require a secure login and/or the provision of sensitive personal information.

“It seems like a long time ago – and it was three years ago – that we sat down with ACT Government staff to begin to map where there was the greatest community need for Canberra’s free public WiFi. We expect that there are still gaps that need to be filled and we encourage the ACT Government to continue to fill those gaps.”

Dr Campbell concluded: “We will continue to advocate for the ACT Government to provide greater access to fast, reliable public WiFi – particularly in areas with the greatest need, and we encourage the government to advertise it in a way that distinguishes it from commercial networks.”

Read the SACOSS and ACCAN national report on telecommunications affordability here.

Read the ACTCOSS ACT cost of living report on telecommunications here.

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