A further expansion of the Canberra free public Wi-Fi network is taking place over the next year, with 16 new locations to come online across the ACT.
The CBRFree network will be rolled out to town centres, community centres and shopping precincts across the Territory, covering a variety of new sites ranging from the Belconnen Basketball Centre to the Mawson shops.
Daily download limits on the network will also expand, from 250mb per day to 1gb per day.
With these new locations coming online up to June 2021, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it will make this the largest free Wi-Fi program by geographic footprint of any major Australian city.
The ACT’s free Wi-Fi network currently involves 334 Wireless Access Points (WAPs) across Canberra.
This will be increased to 415 when the network is complete. Program partner iiNet also provides an additional 63 indoor WAPs located in business premises across Canberra.
Without naming an exact cost of the program, Mr Barr said it’s been “in the millions in totality across multiple years” and involves “a capital component associated with the extension of the network and then an operating element”.
High private home internet connection rates in the ACT and the increased affordability of mobile data has led to a steep decline in monthly unique users on the network since consumption peaked in 2016-17.
According to the ACT Government Open Data Portal, the service averaged just under 50,000 unique users a month over 2017. Users have then steadily dropped off since early 2018.
For the year of 2019 the CBRFree network clocked roughly 30,000 unique users a month, with that number further plummeting to 10-15,000 users a month since COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.
Despite that decline in usage, Mr Barr defended the free Wi-Fi program, describing it as an important “equity measure”.
“The cost of delivering the service is not particularly expensive and I think for the social benefit that it delivers, it’s a very worthwhile investment,” he said.
“We’ll always potentially have the capacity to add more into the network and look at the daily download limits and the like as the project continues to roll out,” Mr Barr said.
CBRfree public Wi-Fi is already available around the town centres of Belconnen, Gungahlin, Tuggeranong, Civic and Woden, as well as a number of group centres and community locations including the Canberra Theatre, Belconnen Arts Centre, EPIC, Cooleman Court, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Kingston Foreshore, Tuggeranong Basketball Stadium and Stromlo Forest Park.
The network will now be extended to further parts of Gungahlin, as well as the group centres of Amaroo, Calwell, Chisholm, Erindale, Hawker, Jamison, Kaleen, Kambah, Kingston, Kippax, Lanyon, Mawson and Wanniassa. Belconnen Basketball Centre will also be covered.