FREE wireless internet access for Fremantle? It is happening elsewhere and we are in danger of being left behind in this exciting, innovative development. Former NSW Premier Morris Iemma announced last November, “Free universal broadband access for seven major central business districts a reality in the next three years.”

“The government sees itself as a facilitator between local, state government and the provider.” Free wireless internet was trialled in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall in 2002.

Where applicable constrained by a quota, it is already widely available here and around the world. It is provided at universities, locally at Notre Dame, schools, cafes, travel agencies (in Fremantle too), airports, hospitals, caravan parks, tourist locations, restaurants, libraries, businesses, shopping centres, hotels, vacation premises.

Professor Joshua Gans, author of “Information Paper 86: The Local Broadband Imperative”, a report of 5 December 2010 for the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), said (inter alia) spending on broadband infrastructure should be treated by (local) governments as an investment in social capital. “Responsibility for broadband upgrades should be delegated to local councils, which could run tenders for interested companies. The economic characteristics are akin to providing a garbage service.”

Professor Gans said the involvement of local councils in securing affordable broadband upgrades could even have a positive effect on property values in the surrounding area. The Massachusetts-based Common Cause organisation claims “Municipalities throughout the country are setting up broadband services in their communities in the same way they provide electricity, gas and water”.

If ever there were a clearly defined, highly identifiable community that lends itself to this concept, it is Fremantle. Why not a city-wide free wireless broadband connection, sponsored by the Fremantle City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Fremantle First? What an exciting 21st Century way of creating a unified image for the city, of gathering all businesses, the council, community organisations, institutions and homes, into a common network. Community internet is being referred to as “the re-birth of the internet”.

A version of it is not only possible but could start operating almost immediately. Tourism would be further benefited, goods and services quickly referenced. Entertainment in and around the city would be listed in one location. Small businesses, from one-man contractors and home-based artists, writers, art and craft producers, performers and so on could have the opportunity of being found alongside major companies and accessible state-wide, nationally – and internationally.

Community or LAN (Local Area Network) of some kind will happen here, it is spreading across the world. And broadband is already out of this world – NASA’s twin Mars exploration rovers are maintaining a 256Kbps uplink to orbiting satellites. If it can be done for Mars, we can do it here. There is only a booby prize for being last. Make it a first for Fremantle.

Colin Nichol

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