Should cities provide free public WiFi to its citizens?
The EU has announced its plans to improve access to high-speed internet by investing €120 million to generate free wireless internet access in public spaces like parks and town squares in cities across Europe.
The internet has become increasingly important in our lives and our dependency on the internet is rising exponentially. The internet has many benefits including the accessibility of jobs, education and communication with people from all over the world. However, the divide between those who have access to the internet to those who don’t is widening, causing detrimental effects to society such as poverty and inequality. Many cities already offer public WiFi, however there are still many costs to be considered to ensure that appropriate measures are being taken to protect consumers’ private information.
So, is public WiFi really a good thing?
1. 2 million jobs will be created according to Jean-Claude Junker, President of the EU commission. Although the job roles are not specified yet, you can assume that they will involve installation and maintenance (Arikoglu, CN Travellers, 2016).
2. The cost of 3G and 4G data is becoming increasingly high so the installation of public wifi will benefit students greatly. They will be able to access e-books and online journals whilst on the go.
3. In emergency situations, public wifi will help in areas where there is a lack of reception and communication. The use of internet connectivity will enable users to be able to get into contact with just about anyone.
4. Public WiFi will ensure a better connected society and a more technological advanced city. Not only this but it will attract tourists and increase business trips as a result. Travellers will be able to avoid high roaming charges and so the city will be a more attractive destination to visit.
5. The government is helping those with lower income and resources by providing free WiFi. Not everyone is able to afford gadgets such as a computer or a mobile phone with 4G data. Providing WiFi will give everyone access to a range of information including health advice, job opportunities and online education.
1. Offering free WiFi is a costly project. Large amounts of money will be needed to invest in infrastructure and network connection. The technical implementation costs may cause a rise in taxes or a cut in other public services.
2. Public WiFi could widen the gap between rural and urban areas causing ‘asymmetric free public WiFi services’ (Netivist Blog 2015)
3. Public WiFi could harm Internet service providers (ISP’s). According to the ISP’s, if the government intervenes in the communications sector, this will alter the market competition meaning it will discourage investment, causing a natural slowdown in this particular sector. This is potentially threatening for economic and social stability.
4. The lack of security poses a threat to the public. The content that you browse and every click you make on the internet can be seen by the WiFi providers due to the lack of encryption. Information is therefore easily accessible to hackers, making it easier to steal your personal information.
5. Public WiFi connection will be considerably slower due to a lower bandwidth connection. Along with this, some people may use the connection to spread viruses, potentially causing a time lag and in the longer term, damage your device.
Although there are issues with introducing public WiFi, there are measures that can be taken to protect user’s information for example, the use of a VPN. A VPN essentially creates a tunnel between your device and a third-party server which means that your data will be encrypted and hidden (Kasten, Okhrimets, Kharchenko, Network World 2015). Another measure to protect yourself from hackers is not to download software to your phone to prevent installing fake software. It is best to use the internet to browse websites that do not require any form of a login.
If these measures are taken, then introducing public WiFi into Europe will be extremely advantageous. It will bring mass employment to cities, which has an array of advantages to society. Not only this, but the fact that consumers have access to educational books and online journals in times where buying data has become increasingly expensive means education will be more mobile and the level of flexible learning will rise.